Build it. Test it. Then, Fly it.
Hundreds of pieces of rockets, rocket engines, boosters, space capsules, launch structures and more have been built, tested and prepared to take us on our Journey to Mars. Across the country, America’s space program is hard at work to launch the Orion space capsule on its first uncrewed flight atop the powerful Space Launch System in 2018.
But enough of the artist concepts, let’s take a look at the real components being made across the country to prepare for this milestone:
From testing individual bracket strength to space flight tests, the Orion team is testing every component and subsystem of the spacecraft to ensure crew safety, operational reliability and backup systems are built into the spacecraft from the ground up. To date, hundreds of tests have been conducted across the program to verify and validate that Orion’s design, manufacturing and systems integration meet the rigorous requirements for safe human space exploration.
Orion engineers have subjected the spacecraft to deafening sound blasts, Earthquake-like vibrations and hurricane-force winds in preparation for Orion’s next flight. Large structures such as Orion’s crew and service modules were tested at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility in Littleton, Colorado, and our Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Motor and engine tests have been conducted at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in Sacramento, California, and Orbital ATK’s facilities in Promontory, Utah, and Elkton, Maryland.
Water impact testing of Orion’s landing capabilities were conducted at our Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and the capsule’s massive parachute system has been tested in various landing scenarios at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Final assembly, integration and pre-flight testing will take place at our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Space Launch System
Towering more than 320 feet, the Space Launch System will be the world’s most powerful rocket. Consisting of a core stage and two boosters, RS-25 engines, and the software to power it all, the initial configuration will provide 15 percent more thrust at launch than the Saturn V rocket and carry more than three times the mass of the Space Shuttle. When complete, we’ll be ready to fire up the largest and most powerful rocket ever built on it’s inaugural launch.
At our Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, a talented crew of humans with the latest in machinery is building SLS’s core stage. The core stage is the structural backbone of SLS that stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that feed the vehicle’s four RS-25 engines.
For two monumental minutes in June, the SLS solid rocket boosters fired up in an amazing display of power as engineers verified their designs in the last full-scale test before SLS’s first flight. The smoke and fire may last only two minutes, but engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Orbital ATK in Promontory, Utah, prepared weeks — even months — in advance for that test.
At our Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams are hard at work transforming the historic Vehicle Assembly Building for the launches of tomorrow. Like a stairway to the heavens, these upgrades include the building and installation of platforms to access the new Space Launch System rocket.
Before SLS roars into deep space from Launch Pad 39B, our Ground Systems program continues making significant upgrades and modifications to the historic launch pad to accommodate the new rocket’s shape and size.
To make room for this new generation of rockets, workers took down the gantry that stood in support of the Space Shuttle program for 30 years and replaced it with, well, not much really. But that was the idea. Whenever SLS heads out to the pad in the future, it’s going to bring its support structure with it. With that in mind, Pad 39B will provide all the fluids, electrical, and communications services to the launch platform.
All of this work is essential to get SLS flight ready before it’s maiden voyage and is an important step on our Journey to Mars.
The work happening across the country is preparing us for the first flight of SLS and Orion in 2018. That first, uncrewed test flight is critical to paving the way for future flights that will carry astronauts to deep space, including on a journey to Mars.
Ultimately, the SLS maiden flight will help us prepare for future human missions. During this flight, currently designated Exploration Mission-1, the spacecraft will travel thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
It will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
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