Bethany Freudenthal, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 7:24 p.m. MT Aug. 11, 2019 | Updated 6:00 a.m. MT Aug. 12, 2019
LAS CRUCES – Humankind is one step closer to returning to the moon and going farther into space than we’ve ever been before.
And important testing to that end is happening right here in southern New Mexico.
Last week, engineers and technicians at NASA’s White Sands Facility, conducted an abort-to-orbit scenario on Orion’s service module’s propulsion system.
The Orion spacecraft is what will take astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.
Should something unforeseen occur on that mission, the crew may abort-to-orbit, a scenario that would propel the Orion module into a safe, temporary orbit, giving crew time to evaluate whether to continue.
On Aug. 5, NASA performed a 20-minute ground test with 12-minute burn time on the Orion engine, simulating how it would behave at 100,000 to 120,000 feet.
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The test was an initial success, said Erin Woods, propulsion qualification test manager. However, scientists must still pore through piles of data collected during the firing to determine just how much of a success.
The test is the culmination of at least seven years of work and about $10 million in labor and hardware built at the White Sands facility.
There are only about a half dozen more tests to complete on the engine until it’s qualified for flight.
Orion’s main engine fires 6,000 pounds of thrust, and is surrounded by eight medium-sized auxiliary engines that fire 100 pounds of thrust each.
The auxiliary engines can back up the main engine for translational maneuvers and they can also be pulsed to provide pitch attitude control, said Mark Kirasich manager of the Orion Program.
On the body of the engine, there are 24 smaller jets.
“Those are reaction control system thrusters,” Kirasich said. “They fire 25 pounds each, and they’re what control the orientation of the spacecraft throughout the flight.”
Fly me to the moon … and beyond
There are three spacecraft within the Orion project, Artemis 1, Artemis 2 and Artemis 3. The crew module and the service module for Artemis 1 are complete and are currently being put together.
“That flight will launch a little over a year from now in 2020. The first time we’ll fly people to the moon since the end of the Apollo program, will be 2022 and those vehicles, the Artemis 2 vehicles are in the middle of manufacturing both at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the ESA factory in Bremen, Germany,” Kirasich said.
Scientists are just beginning to map out plans for the shuttle that will land man on the moon.
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