Tag Archives: Orion

What is the view like lifting off towards Mars? Here’s a helpful video…

So, what would you see if you were lifting off from Earth, on board NASA Orion spacecraft, the craft NASA hopes will eventually take astronauts to Mars?

Here’s a nice little video, it starts with the launch, and the the live stream from the test that NASA did earlier this year.

The Orion crew module is placed in a secure stand where it will undergo decontamination. Photo credit: NASA

The Orion crew module flown 3,600 miles into space during Exploration Flight Test-1 has arrived to the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company headquarters in Littleton, Colorado.

While in Colorado, engineers will perform final decontamination on the crew module, will continue post-flight analysis of select components, and will evaluate a new acoustic technology called Direct Field Acoustic (DFA) testing.  The evaluation of DFA testing will determine if the method can produce enough energy to simulate the acoustic loads Orion will experience during launch and ascent on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Test highlights:

  • Customized, high-energy speakers use a specific algorithm to control how much energy reaches the vehicle.
  • The speakers will be configured in a circle around the vehicle.
  • The amount of speakers needed for the test will fill up three tractor-trailers.
  • The testing is expected to conclude in early 2016.
Photo credit: NASA

If the method proves to be an accurate representation of SLS launch and ascent acoustic loads, it will be used to evaluate and verify Orion’s ability to withstand those loads during its next mission, Exploration Mission-1.

About Lockheed Martin

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 112,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation’s net sales for 2014 were $45.6 billion.

Buzz Aldrin’s Plan For Journey To Mars

It hit the news, and social media over the last few days – the story about Buzz Aldrin’s plans for a mars mission (not for him obviously, even though I bet he’d like to, he’s that kind of guy, but it’ll happen by 2040 in his vision) the new association is with the Florida Institute of Technology, and Buzz is relocating there (OMG take sandbags!)

Credit: Buzz Aldrin and Purdue University
Credit: Buzz Aldrin and Purdue University. CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW
Florida Tech’s president, Anthony J Catanese, left, talks with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin as he shows him the campus on Thursday in Melbourne, Florida Photograph: Craig Rubadoux/AP
Florida Tech’s president, Anthony J Catanese, left, talks with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin as he shows him the campus on Thursday in Melbourne, Florida Photograph: Craig Rubadoux/AP

While it’s great that there’s a lot of chatter about Mars finally filtering through to the mainstream media, let’s try to take a slightly more critical look at this – this is a new association with F.I.T, not a new idea – but what the heck, let’s start talking about it!

I’m guessing the mainstream interest is mostly because of the ‘Martian’ movie featuring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. The Martian is a great book, and inspiring to people thinking about Mars missions; it contains many themes that are current, and unresolved.

Creidt: Buzz Aldrin and Perdue University
Creidt: Buzz Aldrin and Perdue University

So, what’s this brand new plan all about? Well, the first thing is that it’s not so new, in a way it’s actually a few years old – that’s fine, it probably didn’t get mainstream attention in 2013, but the original details are here. It’s good stuff, from one of the most credible space advocates alive. In the document (produced in association with Perdue Univeristy, Indiana) Aldrin slams NASA’s goals, lack of funding, and also lack of cooperation with China. This is an interesting theme, expect to hear more about this, and indeed in The Martian (spoiler alert!) cooperation with China is a crucial element. He also advocates shelving NASA’s SLS system – it’s flagship program – but does endorse the Orion as the primary crew vehicle.

Credit: Buzz Aldrin and Purde University
Credit: Buzz Aldrin and Purdue University

In addition to Orion development, Aldrin’s plan envisions a NASA-crafted manned Mars Exploration Vehicle (MEV). MEVs ultimately would be placed on orbits that regularly cycle between Earth and Mars, allowing for relatively routine round-trip transportation to the Red Planet.

Companion modules, called exploration modules (XMs), would accompany both Orion and the MEV on most of their missions. XMs would provide much of the living and storage space necessitated by long-duration spaceflight. This would all involve the cancellation of NASA’s plans for manned missions to asteroids, but it would mean a return to the moon. In the past Buzz had said that going back to the moon was unimaginative, but there is a growing argument for the fact that outposts from Earth could be more easily tested on the moon as a stage in the Mars  process.

Let’s hope we hear more about this plan; possibly an advocate with the profile of Buzz can actually change opinion sufficiently, but don’t forget that significant figures such as Robert Zubrin (The Mars Society) have been at it for years already. And, before we leave that topic Mars fans, don’t forget there’s only a couple more days to save the Mars Society’s GreenHab through their crowdfunding campaign because when you go to mars, you’re gonna need that!

Credit: The Mars Society
Credit: The Mars Society
Inside NASA’s glass Orion cockpit

Inside NASA’s glass Orion cockpit

After 10 years of evolution, the prototypes of NASA’s Orion “glass cockpit” are finally reaching maturity.

Introduction to the Orion craft. Video courtesy of NASA

The cockpit, a first for a NASA spacecraft, will be a critical part of Orion’s maiden manned mission in six years and distinguishes itself by virtue of its ability to eliminate a small mountain of switches and heavy wiring. “The Space Shuttle had about 2,000 switches and controls, in addition to all of its displays,” noted Dr. Lee Morin, astronaut and lead crew interface for NASA’s Orion Cockpit Rapid Prototyping Lab (RPL), during a recent visit to NASA by Design News. “During dynamic flight, about 1,247 of those were available to the crew. But that will change with the glass cockpit.”

Indeed, the glass cockpit represents a monumental change for NASA and its design engineers. Instead of the well-known cornucopia of switches, Orion’s capsule will employ six flat screen monitors about 20 inches from the noses of the astronauts, who will lie strapped beneath them. The monitors are called a glass cockpit because most of the spacecraft’s instruments are represented as images on them. All but 56 of the 2,000 switches will be transformed into software icons.

Orion's cockpit will use six screens - two in each of the large displays. Each screen is about the size of a sheet of looseleaf paper. (Source: EDN/Loretta Taranovich)

Orion’s cockpit will use six screens – two in each of the large displays. Each screen is about the size of a sheet of looseleaf paper. (Source: EDN/Loretta Taranovich)

”The goal was to build a cockpit user interface – a dashboard – that would allow the crew to control the spacecraft on these deep space missions,” Morin said.

Creating the glass cockpit has been a decade-long labor of love for engineers in the RPL. The design team prototyped hardware and software for the avionics, “drove” the prototype cockpits on simulators, evaluated displays and user interfaces, and corrected deficiencies. Then, they repeated this process again and again for 10 years.

Key to the process was the presence of astronauts at the Johnson Space Center. “We’ve had about 50 astronauts in here,” Morin said, referring to the RPL. ”Human factors people assign them to do different tasks and then we get their feedback.”

To speed the evolution of the glass cockpit, RPL’s team built many of the prototype parts themselves, rather than purchasing them off the shelf from vendors. The team built parts in a 3D printer and did subsequent machining. Morin, who keeps a four-axis milling machine in his garage, cut many of the hardware components, including mounts for the cockpit displays. He also used Arduino boards to prototype some of the display software. “These parts don’t have to fly in space,” he told Design News. “We can do it economically, get it just the way we want it, and produce it very quickly.”

In some cases, engineers built interface devices that will eventually be used aboard Orion’s space flights. One such part, known as the Cursor Control Device (CCD), will serve as an alternative to a computer mouse. Initially starting out as a box, the CCD was gradually transformed to a steam iron shape before evolving into a hand-friendly plastic blob containing rocker switches and castle switches. The current iteration of the CCD is expected to reside on the left side of each seat, near the astronauts’ knees. It will enable astronauts to move their cursors around the screens and select control icons.

Morin said that NASA engineers considered a wide variety of alternatives before settling on the current shape. “We had things that looked like motorcycle grips and Klingon battle swords,” he said. “There were some pretty wild-looking designs, but we eventually gravitated toward the blob.”

To test it for every imaginable human factor, a NASA branch chief even brought in his 9-year-old daughter. “He explained how it worked and asked if she was able to turn it on,” Morin recalled. “She did it right away. That was the acid test.”

The current evolution of the glass cockpit uses three large DU-1310 screens from Honeywell International, Inc. It also employs electronic procedures software (dubbed “eProc”) that will enable the team to eliminate hundreds of pounds of paper manuals from the Orion’s storage space.

Team members say that refinements on the Orion capsule will continue, but they don’t expect major changes at this point. “We’re approaching it with an intent that we don’t make lots and lots of changes,” Stuart McClung, NASA’s crew and service module functional area manager, toldDesign News. “There’s an expense to keeping a design team in place.”

Still, the journeys ahead continue to provide motivation for engineers to bring the glass cockpit as close to perfection as possible. “We know that these are the screens that the first humans who go to Mars will be looking at, as that mission unfolds in the decades ahead,” Morin said.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years, and wrote this article originally for Design News.

Mind the Gap

The USA (NASA) has been experiencing a gap now of several years in its own domestic capability to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) since the decommissioning of the space-shuttle program.

Photo credit: NASA
Photo credit: NASA

Does the reliance of the Russian Soyuz matter, or has it been good for international cooperation? Is it in fact inspiring a step-change in private space companies bringing us into a better era of space exploration?

Soyuz_TMA-19_docked_to_the_Rassvet_Mini-Research_Module
Soyuz craft dock with the International Space Station. Photo credit NASA

How did we get here?

The space shuttle program was ambitious, hugely expensive, often successful, but also included several disasters. Worryingly, it also included many near misses, and seems to have been a departure from the initial culture of the Apollo space program. Apollo 13 captured the imagination, with the idea that a creative ad-hoc solution was found during the mission in order to not lose the crew, who were in a dire situation. In contrast to that episode, the Columbia disaster may have been prevented if requests from NASA engineers had been fulfilled to carry out investigation on the damaged heat-shield tiles prior to re-entry. There were many quirks with the shuttle, even down to various software bugs, leading to astronauts having to memorise which systems were required to register as OFF in order to actually be ON.

Photo: Ben Cooper, launchphotography.com
Photo: Ben Cooper, launchphotography.com

So, since 2010, the world has been dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle. A craft that began it’s life during the race to the moon, which of course Soviet Russia lost. However, since that time Russia focused on space-station technology, and getting to and from orbit, and has been extremely successful at doing so. Did the Russian space program losing the space-race/cold-war, mean that it’s winning the subsequent peace? Britain’s first ESA astronaut, Tim Peake, will be travelling to the ISS on the Soyuz craft this November, and international space efforts would be sunk without Soyuz, but what will happen next – when the next generation really gets going, will we then enter a era where we can’t quite believe this pause in development was quite so long?

Development of the Orion module. Photo credit, NASA
Development of the Orion module. Photo credit, NASA

Space is hard, and the reliable Soyuz craft is the result of the continuous development of a craft begun in the 1960’s. New and exciting things take a huge amount of money, and also a long time in development. NASA’s Orion spacecraft is still in development and currently not expected to be making manned flights until 2021…that’s quite a gap.