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Orion / EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test-1)

Overview   Spacecraft   Launch   Mission Status   References

The EFT-1 mission, previously known as OFT-1 (Orion Flight Test 1), is the first planned uncrewed test flight of the Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle). EFT-1 will be NASA's first real step towards transitioning back to BEO (Beyond Earth Orbit) exploration, allowing the spacecraft - that will eventually carry NASA astronauts to destinations as far away as Mars - to stretch its legs during what will be a critical test for the spacecraft. 1)

NASA is committed to human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit and the continued development of its next generation spacecraft—Orion. The Orion spacecraft will take astronauts beyond LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to deep space. It will provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe reentry from deep space. 2)

As of March 2014, the launch of the EFT-1 mission is scheduled for December 2014. It was delayed by several months following a manifest decision that prioritized the launch of a military satellite for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness (GEO SSA) system. Because Orion's launch vehicle of choice - the SLS (Space Launch System) - won't be available for the EFT-1 mission, a Delta IV-H was purchased for the role of lofting Orion into space, with the EELV's upper stage providing the second leg of sending the spacecraft into an orbital path that will mimic the vehicle's return from a deep space mission. 3) 4)

Although this EFT-1 mission will occur several years before a crew flies in the spacecraft, the test will provide valuable early data, which can be fed into Orion's development, thus avoiding any "late" changes to the vehicle that could cause schedule impacts.

As such, data from the mission will be directly fed into Orion's CDR (Critical Design Review) in 2015. It is not yet known if the slip will result in the CDR being pushed to the right.

• On January 14, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the Orion spacecraft, known then as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), as part of the Vision for Space Exploration.

• With the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 formalizing the findings of the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, work began on this revised Constellation Program to send astronauts first to the International Space Station, then to the Moon, and afterward to Mars and other destinations beyond.

• President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which shelved the Constellation Program; however, the Constellation contracts remained in place until Congress acted on the overturn of the previous mandate. The program has been replaced by the space policy of the Barack Obama administration. NASA announced that it had selected the design of the SLS (Space Launch System) in September 2011.

• The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle was originally part of NASA's Constellation Program, which is no longer an active NASA program. However, the design for Orion was carried forward as the Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) as part of NASA's new plans to explore beyond low Earth orbit and into deep space.

• The Orion MPCV is based on the Orion design requirements for traveling beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe reentry from deep space return velocities.

- Spacecraft to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond LEO

- Capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking, extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by the Space Launch System (SLS) for missions beyond LEO

- Capability to be a backup system for International Space Station cargo and crew delivery

• The MPCV was announced by NASA on May 24, 2011, aided by designs and tests already completed for a spacecraft of the cancelled Constellation program, development for which began in 2005 as the Crew Exploration Vehicle. 6)
Following the reformulation of Orion MPCV, Lockheed Martin's contract was modified to focus on an efficient flight test strategy starting with a very important risk reduction flight called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) to validate subsystems on Orion required for a high speed re-entry similar to a BEO (Beyond Earth Orbit) return. 7)

• The Orion MPCV is being built by Lockheed Martin as prime contractor for NASA. Lockheed Martin Space Systems has also an agreement, similar to an associate contractor agreement, with Airbus DS (formerly Astrium) and with the ESA (project funding) as industrial partners to provide the Orion spacecraft service module for NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2017 and beyond. The Orion MPCV is desinged for crewed missions to the Moon, asteroids and Mars. It is planned to be launched by the Space Launch System. Each Orion spacecraft is projected to carry a crew of 2–6 astronauts. It is also planned as a backup for ISS cargo and crew delivery.

- In January 2013, ESA and NASA announced that the Orion SM (Service Module) will be built by the European space company Astrium for ESA (European Space Agency).

- The first crewed mission is expected to take place after 2020.

• The first unmanned multi-hour test flight, known as EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test 1), was launched successfully aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket on December 5, 2014.

Table 1: Some background of the NASA programs prior to the EFT-1 flight 5) 6) 7)



Orion Spacecraft:

The Orion spacecraft program, originally known as the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) project, was awarded to Lockheed Martin in September 2006 for the Design, Development, Test and Evaluation (DDT&E) and production phases. The Orion spacecraft is now being designed as the MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) to launch astronauts into space, perform multiple long distance/long duration space missions, and then return the astronauts safely back to Earth. The Orion spacecraft is the first human rated spacecraft since Apollo 17, launched 42 years ago, designed to take humans beyond LEO (Low Earth Orbit). 8) 9)

EFT-1's primary objective is the timely and cost-effective testing of the spacecraft launch, orbital, reentry, and recovery systems. Supporting this test requires an intricate ground system to configure the vehicle prior to launch, monitor mission progress, manage flight test sensor data, and issue contingency commands to Orion in support of potential anomalous mission events. To minimize non-flight costs, the capabilities of a number of NASA, Lockheed Martin provided systems are being reused and integrated into the core ground system. Understanding how these components are integrated to provide the needed capabilities, and how they will interact with MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) to achieve the flight test objectives, requires the development of an EEIS (End-to-End Information System) architecture. Orion is designed as an exploration vehicle for carrying crew to space, providing emergency launch abort capabilities, sustaining the crew during space travel, and providing reentry from deep space return velocities. 10) 11) 12)


Figure 1: Artist's rendering of Orion during Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta-4 second stage (image credit: NASA) 13)

The Orion CSM (Crew and Service Module) stack consists of two main parts: a conical CM (Crew Module), and a cylindrical SM (Service Module) holding the spacecraft's propulsion system and expendable supplies. Both are based substantially on the Apollo CSMs (Command and Service Modules) flown between 1967 and 1975, but include advances derived from the space shuttle program. "Going with known technology and known solutions lowers the risk," according to Neil Woodward, director of the integration office in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is comprised of five primary elements which will be operated and evaluated during the test flight: 14)

1) LAS (Launch Abort System): LAS propels the Orion Crew Module to safety in an emergency during launch or ascent.

2) CM (Crew Module): Houses and transports NASA's astronauts during spaceflight missions.

3) SM (Service Module): Contains Orion's propulsion, power and life support systems. 15)

4) The Spacecraft Adaptor and Fairings: Connects Orion to the launch vehicle.

5) MSA (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to Stage Adaptor): Connects the entire vehicle structure to the kick stage of the rocket.

LAS (Launch Abort System): The LAS design, first demonstrated on a pad abort test in 2010, has been optimized using test results from that successful mission. The LAS configuration selected for the EFT-1 mission includes an active jettison motor, an inert abort motor, and an inert attitude control system. Both the attitude and abort systems are not required for this mission, which only requires the LAS to jettison and fly away from the Orion CM/SM and launch vehicle. This simplification for the test is a good example of attention to affordability while still maintaining a valid test configuration. All of the LAS hardware was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in 2014 and has been configured for integration onto the Crew and Service Module assembly (Ref. 7).


Figure 2: Overview of the EFT-1 spacecraft

SM (Service Module):

The Orion SM is being funded by ESA (European Space Agency) and will be built by Airbus Defence and Space. In January 2013, NASA and ESA signed an agreement for a European-provided Orion Service Module. The agreement primarily maps out a plan for ESA to fulfill its share of operational costs and additional supporting services for the International Space Station by providing the Orion service module and necessary elements of its design for NASA's Exploration Mission-1 in 2017. 16) 17)

In November 2014, ESA awarded a contract to Airbus Defence and Space for the development and construction of the service module for Orion, the future American human space capsule. It is the first time that Europe has been involved in providing system-critical elements for an American space project. In December 2012, NASA and ESA had agreed to certify the new US Orion spacecraft in conjunction with the European service module. This module is based on the design of and the experience gained from the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) developed and constructed by Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of ESA as a supply craft for the ISS (International Space Station). 18)

The uncrewed EFT-1 flight will take Orion to an altitude of approximately 5800 km above the Earth's surface, more than 15 times farther than the International Space Station's orbital position. By flying Orion out to those distances, NASA will be able to see how Orion performs in and returns from deep space journeys.

The first Orion spaceflight vehicle will be integrated with the Delta IV Heavy, a rocket built and operated by ULA (United Launch Alliance). While this launch vehicle will provide sufficient lift for the EFT-1 flight plan, a much larger, human-rated rocket will be needed for the vast distances of future exploration missions. NASA/MSFC is currently developing the SLS (Space Launch System), which will provide Orion the capability to carry astronauts to destinations beyond LEO, like an asteroid, Mars and other deep space destinations. 19) 20)

EFT-1 will demonstrate Orion structural integrity, thermal protection systems, the jettison separation of the launch abort system tower and associated fairings, the on orbit energy and guidance capability which will ensure the proper re-entry configuration. The mission will also demonstrate all of the re-entry crew module control, separation from the service module and the entire range of parachute and landing separation events. Additionally, the Ground Support Equipment, ground software, flight software, mission, launch, and recovery operations will be validated and will serve to anchor requirements and processes for EM-1 (Exploration Mission- 1) in 2017.

EFT-1 avionics will demonstrate all core network systems and primary communications systems for EM-1 and EM-2 with every type of avionics box flying except the crew specific functions (displays, display controllers, life support, etc.). EFT-1 has developed and certified for flight test about 50% of the entire software load that is required for crewed flight on EM-2.

The Orion heat shield is the key protective structure for the crew for re-entry velocities that are higher than any human spacecraft in history to support exploration missions that humans have never done before.


The first two SLS (Space Launch System) missions will send Orion all the way to the Moon:

• EM-1 (Exploration Mission-One), scheduled for 2017, will send an uncrewed Orion MPCV on a high-angle lunar trajectory to test the spacecraft's systems—especially the heat shield and reentry parachutes—as well as the SLS rocket.

• EM-2 (Exploration Mission-Two), scheduled to fly in 2021, will send a crew into orbit around the Moon and back for the first time since 1972. The Orion spacecraft will provide emergency abort during the launch ascent phase, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe reentry from deep space return velocities.


Figure 3: Orion schematic layout (image credit: NASA)

Orion's service module is designed to be the powerhouse that fuels and propels the Orion spacecraft in space. Located directly below the crew module, it will contain the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control, and high-altitude ascent aborts. It will also generate power using solar arrays and provide thermal control, water, and air for the astronauts until just before their return to Earth, when it will separate from the crew module.

The SM provides in-space power, propulsion capability, attitude control, thermal control, water and air for the astronauts. For the EFT-1 flight, the SM is not fully outfitted. It is a structural representation simulating the exact size and mass. In a significant difference from Apollo, Orion is equipped with a trio of massive fairings that encase the SM and support half the mass of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. The purpose is to improve performance by saving weight from the service module, thus maximizing the vehicles size and capability in space. All three fairings are jettisoned at an altitude of ~160 km up when they are no longer needed to support the stack. 21)



Figure 4: Photo of the Orion SM (Service Module) assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center (image credit: Ken Kremer)

Orion technology innovations: 22)

Propulsion: Abort Motor, Attitude Control Motor, High Burn Rate Propellant for Solid Rocket Motors.

Navigation: Atmospheric Skip Entry, Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking, Fast Acquisition GPS Receiver, High Density Camera Sensors.

Avionics: Algorithmic Autocode Generation, ARINC-653 / DO-178 Standard Operating System, Baseband Processor, High Speed/High Density Memory Devices, Honeywell HX5000 Northstar ASIC.

Communications: C3I - Standard Communications, Communication Network Router Card, Digital Video Recorder.

Power: CGA (Column Grid Array Packaging), Direct Energy Power Transfer System.

Thermal Protection System: Ablative Heat Shield with Composite Carrier Structure.

Life Support & Safety: Backup and Survival Systems, Closed Loop Life Support, Contingency Land Landing, Enhanced Waste Management, Environmental Control, Hazard Detection, Isolation and Recovery.

Structures: Composite Spacecraft Structures, Human Rated Spacecraft Primary Structures Development.

CM (Crew Module): The crew module's primary structure is made of aluminum and aluminum-lithium, with a friction-stir-welded pressure vessel covered in tiles that makes up Orion's back shell. The crew module also includes a forward bay cover, which protects the top of the spacecraft during flight and reentry through Earth's atmosphere, and 11 parachutes, which slow the spacecraft down for a relatively gentle splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.


Orion spacecraft testing:

• In early September 2014, technicians completed the assembly of NASA's first Orion crew module at the agency's Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O & C) Facility at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) in Florida, signifying a major milestone in the vehicles transition from fabrication to full scale launch operations. 23)

• August 30, 2014: NASA's Orion crew capsule is entering its final stages at the KSC (Kennedy Space Center) launch site in Florida. Engineers and technicians have completed the installation of Orion's back shell panels which will protect the spacecraft and future astronauts from the searing heat of reentry and scorching temperatures exceeding 1700ºC. 24)

Figure 6 is a photo of the crew capsule. The cone-shaped back shell actually has a rather familiar look since it is comprised of 970 black thermal protection tiles – the same tiles which protected the belly of the space shuttles during three decades in 135 missions. However, Orion's back shell tiles will experience temperatures far in excess of those from the shuttle era. Whereas the space shuttles traveled at 27,350 km/hr, Orion will hit the Earth's atmosphere at some 32,200 km/hr on this first flight test, thus generating considerably more heat on reentry.

Engineers have also rigged Orion to conduct a special in flight test to see just how vulnerable the vehicle is to the onslaught of micrometeoroid orbital debris. Even tiny particles can cause immense and potentially fatal damage at high speed by punching a hole through the back shell tiles and possibly exposing some of the spacecraft's structure to these very high temperatures. Below the tiles, the vehicle's structure doesn't often get hotter than ~ 150ºC.

Two holes (2.5 cm ∅) have been drilled into tiles on Orion's back shell to simulate micrometeoroid orbital debris damage. Sensors on the vehicle will record how high temperatures climb inside the hole during Orion's return through Earth's atmosphere.


Figure 5: Photo of the two holes in the tiles of Orion (image credit: NASA)


Figure 6: Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits, install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module (image credit: NASA)

• April 11, 2014: A first integrated system test on the Orion spacecraft was completed on April 8, 2014 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test verified the crew module can route power and send commands that enable the spacecraft to manage its computer system, software and data loads, propulsion valves, temperature sensors and other instrumentation. 25)




Figure 7: Engineers in the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, perform avionics testing on the Orion spacecraft (image credit: NASA)

• May 2014: One of the primary goals of NASA's eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching 2200º C during scorching reentry heating. The heat shield measures 5 m in diameter. Lockheed Martin and NASA technicians mated the heat shield to the bottom of the capsule during assembly work inside the Operations and Checkout High Bay facility at KSC. It is constructed from a single seamless piece of Avcoat ablator, that was applied by engineers at Textron Defense System near Boston, MA. 26)

At the conclusion of the two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and reenters the Earth's atmosphere at 32,000 km/hr. A trio of parachutes will then unfurl to slow Orion down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.


Figure 8: Photo of Orion's heat shield and crew module in position for mating operations at NASA KSC (image credit: NASA)

• June 5, 2014: NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers have installed the largest heat shield ever constructed on the crew module of the agency's Orion spacecraft. The work marks a major milestone on the path toward the spacecraft's first launch in December. 27)

The heat shield is made of a coating called Avcoat, which burns away as it heats up in a process called ablation to prevent the transfer of extreme temperatures to the crew module. The Avcoat is covered with a silver reflective tape that protects the material from the extreme cold temperatures of space.

• June 10, 2014: Engineers began stacking the crew module on top of the completed service module, the first step in moving the three primary Orion elements –crew module, service module and launch abort system – into the correct configuration for launch. The modules are being put together in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) cell in the Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy. Here, the integrated modules will be put through their final system tests prior to rolling out of the facility for integration with the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will send it on its mission. 28)

• October 17, 2014: Boeing has successfully completed the final milestone of its CCICap (Commercial Crew Integrated Capability) Space Act Agreement with NASA. The work and testing completed under the agreement resulted in significant maturation of Boeing's crew transportation system, including the CST-100 spacecraft and Atlas V rocket. 29) 30)



Figure 9: Technicians complete final assembly of NASA's first Orion spacecraft with installation of the close out panels on the Launch Abort System that smooth airflow (image credit: NASA, Kim Shiflett)

• Nov. 6, 2014: NASA's Orion spacecraft is set to roll out of the LASF (Launch Abort System Facility) at NASA/KSC (Kennedy Space Center) in Florida to its launch pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on Monday Nov. 10, in preparation for liftoff next month on its first space flight. 31)

• Nov. 20. 2014: Orion passed the FRR (Flight Readiness Review) and officials announced that the spacecraft is "GO" for proceeding on the road to launch. The FRR is a rigorous assessment of the spacecraft, its systems, mission operations, and support functions needed to successfully complete Orion's first voyage to space. 32)

• Dec. 01.2014: NASA has approved the completion of Boeing's first milestone in the company's path toward launching crews to the International Space Station from the United States under a groundbreaking Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. 33)

- The Certification Baseline Review is the first of many more milestones, including flight tests from Florida's Space Coast that will establish the basis for certifying Boeing's human space transportation system to carry NASA astronauts to the space station. The review established a baseline design of the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and associated ground and mission operations systems.

- During the review, Boeing provided NASA with a roadmap toward certification, including its baseline design, concept of operations and management and insight plans. The Boeing team also detailed how the CST-100 would connect with the station and how it plans to train NASA astronauts to fly the CST-100 in orbit.


Figure 10: Photo of the assembled Orion EFT-1 spacecraft inside LASF at KSC (image credit: NASA, Jim Grossman)


Figure 11: On Nov. 12, 2014, the Orion-EFT-1 spacecraft arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to complete its 22 mile move from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: NASA, Kim Shiflett) 34)


Launch: The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was launched on December 5, 2014 (12:05:00 UTC), on a Delta-4-Heavy booster vehicle of ULA (United Launch Alliance) from SLC-37B (Space Launch Complex-37B) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 35) 36) 37) 38)

Orbit: Elliptical orbit into the MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) range, apogee = 5800 km, inclination = 28.6º.

The ELV (Expandable Launch Vehicle) will place the CM /Crew Module) and the ELV upper stage into a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) for one revolution. After the first LEO, the ELV upper stage will re-ignite and place the combined upper stage/CM into an elliptical orbit whose perigee results in a high energy entry to test CM response in a relatively high velocity, high heating environment. 39)

A two orbit flight is planned as shown in Figure 12. This early orbital test flight will play an important role in the finalization of Orion's design and will increase efficiencies and reduce risk.

Programmatic risk reduction: The EFT-1 spacecraft will reenter the atmosphere at a speed of over 32,000 km/hr, returning to Earth faster than any current human spacecraft. As Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will endure temperatures up to 2,200º C— higher than any human spacecraft since astronauts returned from the Moon. Orion will land in the water and be recovered. Critical flight data collected from EFT-1 will validate Orion's ability to withstand the fierce reentry conditions.

Technical risk reduction: Valuable data about key systems functions and capabilities such as kick stage processing on the launch pad, vehicle fueling and stacking, and crew module recovery will ensure these systems are designed and built correctly.

Demonstrates efficiencies: Gives NASA the chance to continue to refine its production and coordination processes, aligning with the agency's commitment to build the world's most cutting edge spacecraft in the most cost efficient manner.

Enhances and sustains industry partnerships: Orion's design teams will gain important experience and training to ensure the industry is prepared for a launch of Orion in 2017 aboard the SLS.



Figure 12: Illustration of the various stages of the EFT-1 mission (image credit: NASA)

While not producing entry velocities as high as those experienced in returning from a lunar orbit, the trajectory was chosen to provide higher stresses on the thermal protection and guided entry systems, as compared against a lower energy LEO entry. However the required entry geometry with constraints on inclination and landing site result in a trajectory that lingers for many hours in the Van Allen radiation belts. This exposes the vehicle and avionics to much higher levels of high energy proton radiation than a typical LEO or lunar trajectory would encounter. As a result, Van Allen radiation poses a significant risk to the Orion avionics system, and particularly the FCM (Flight Control Module) computers that house the GN&C flight software (Ref. 39).


The promise of crucial flight test data:

Orion only has two flight test opportunities before astronauts climb aboard for the first crewed mission in 2021 - so gleaning the maximum information possible from EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test-1) in December 2014 (and later, Exploration Mission-1 in 2017) is of the highest priority. The following five items are of special importance for the flight engineers: 40)

1) Launch Abort System Separation - The LAS (Launch Abort System) is a key reason that Orion is intended to become the safest spacecraft ever built. In an emergency, it could activate to pull the crew module and the astronauts it will carry away from the launch pad and the rocket in milliseconds. Hopefully it's never needed, and since no crew will fly on EFT-1 the rescue system won't be active.

But even when a launch goes perfectly, the 410 kg LAS jettison motor has to perform flawlessly. If it doesn't get rid of the LAS 6 minutes and 20 seconds into the mission, there will be no landing - the LAS protects the crew module during ascent, but to do so, it blocks the parachutes that allow Orion to safely splashdown.

2) Parachute Deployment - For EFT-1, Orion will travel 5800 km above the Earth so that when it performs its deorbit burn, it will come screaming back into the Earth's atmosphere at ~32,000 km/h. Before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, it needs to slow down to 1/1000th of its entry speed - a relatively gentle 32 km/h.

Earth's atmosphere does its part to put on the brakes, but to make landing survivable, Orion relies on its parachute system - primarily two drogue parachutes and three massive mains that together would cover almost an entire football field. They've been tested on Earth; test versions of Orion have been dropped from airplanes with a multitude of failure scenarios programmed into the parachute deployment sequence in an effort to make sure that every possibly problem is accounted for.

But the sheer number of possible problems to be tested indicates how complicated the system is - each parachute must deploy at the exact right time, open to the exact right percentages in the exact right stages, and be cut away exactly as planned. And no test on Earth can exactly simulate what the spacecraft will really experience on its return from space.

3) Heat Shield Protection - Before the parachutes even get a chance to deploy, Orion has to make it safely through Earth's atmosphere. The reason that Orion is traveling so far and coming back in so fast is to give the heat shield a good workout - the idea is to get as close as possible to the temperatures Orion would experience during a return from Mars. At the speed it will be traveling, the temperature should reach almost 2200ºC. At that same temperature, a nuclear reactor would melt down.

Standing between the crew module and all that heat is no more than 1.6 inches of Avcoat, a material that's designed to burn away rather than transfer the temperatures back to Orion. Some 20% of the Avcoat will erode during the spacecraft's journey back to Earth, and although it's not the first time the material has been used for this purpose, at 5 m in diameter, Orion's heat shield is the largest ever built.

Technicians filled with Avcoat each of the 320,000 honeycomb cells that make up the shield's structure by hand, then machined them to the precise fractions of inches called for by the design. Getting it exactly right is all that will get Orion through one of the most dynamic periods of its mission.

4) Radiation Levels - Traveling 15 times farther into space than the ISS (International Space Station) will take Orion beyond the radiation protection offered by Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. In fact, the majority of EFT-1 will take place inside the Van Allen Belts, clouds of heavy radiation that surround Earth. No spacecraft built for humans has passed through the Van Allen Belts since the Apollo missions, and even those only passed through the belts - they didn't linger.

Future crews don't plan to spend more time than necessary inside the Van Allen Belts, either, but long missions to deep space will expose them to more radiation than astronauts have ever dealt with before. EFT-1's extended stay in the Van Allen Belts offers a unique opportunity to see how Orion's shielding will hold up to it. Sensors will record the peak radiation seen during the flight, as well as radiation levels throughout the flight, which can be mapped back to geographic hot spots.

5) Computer Function - Orion's computer is the first of its kind to be flown in space. It can process 480 million instructions/second. That's 25 times faster than the International Space Station's computers, 400 times faster than the space shuttle's computers and 4,000 times faster than Apollo's.

But to operate in space, it has to be able to handle extreme heat and cold, heavy radiation and the intense vibrations of launches, aborts and landings. And it has to operate through all of that without a single mistake. Just restarting the computer would take 15 seconds; and while that might sound lightning fast compared to your PC, you can cover a lot of ground in 15 seconds when you're strapped to a rocket.



EDC (Exploration Design Challenge)

EDC is a radiation experiment designed by top American high school students will soar along and play a key role in investigating how best to safeguard the health of America's future astronauts as they venture farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond! EDC was a year-long competition sponsored by NASA, Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and the National Institute of Aerospace, and was open to high school teams across the US.

The winning experiment design came from a five-member team of High School students from the Governor's School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. and was announced by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the opening of the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2014. 41) 42)

The goal of the EDC competition was to build and test designs for shields to minimize radiation exposure and damaging human health effects inside NASA's new Orion spacecraft slated to launch into orbit during the EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test-1) pathfinding mission in December 2014.


Figure 13: Photo of the radiation shielding experiment (image credit: Lockheed Martin)

EDC background: During the test, which is currently referred to as EFT-1, Orion will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and orbit Earth twice in a highly elliptical orbit, taking Orion to an altitude higher than any achieved by a spacecraft intended for human use since 1972. The spacecraft will then re-enter Earth's atmosphere at higher speeds and energy than a low altitude orbital mission and land in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States. 43)

This flight test will evaluate several of the most significant events of a deep space mission to reduce the overall risk for Orion's first human-rated flight. The data provided by an early orbital flight test will influence design decisions and validate innovative new approaches to space systems development, as well as reduce overall mission risks and costs.

Learning how to protect Orion's crew from adverse effects of space radiation will be a critical need for long-duration missions into deep space. The Van Allen Belt is a dense radiation field that surrounds Earth in a protective shell of electrically charged ions. These particles protect Earth from harmful solar radiation, but when traveling through the Van Allen Belt, the same radiation field that protects Earth from the sun can harm humans as they pass through it. The Van Allen Belt, like all radiation fields, consists of small particles that penetrate living tissue leaving small changes as they pass. Over time, these small changes alter and mutate tissue.



Mission status:

• Oct. 2015: EFT-1 included 1200 channels of Development Flight Instrumentation to obtain external environmental data and the vehicle's response, in addition to the standard operational instrumentation. Lockheed Martin delivered the final post-flight report to NASA 90 days after the mission. 44)

- EFT-1 Flight Test Objectives and Instrumentation: Eighty seven (87) EFT-1 flight test objectives were identified in the early phases of the test development program. These objectives included verification of Orion's subsystems ability to launch, control its trajectory with OFI (Operational Flight Instrumentation), complete all separation events, reenter the Earth's atmosphere at 32,000 km/h and 2200ºC, land accurately in the Pacific Ocean and be recovered without damage. Eighty-one of the eighty-seven flight test objectives were fully satisfied with six being partially met. Four of the six objectives were related to suspect DFI (Developmental Flight Instrumentation) performance. Two flight test objectives related to the Crew Module Up-Righting System were partially met. The DFI was intended to capture test results that can be correlated with design models and predictions. The DFI worked well throughout the entire flight with all power cycle sequences executing as planned. All data acquisition units functioned correctly throughout the mission. Both flight data recorders redundantly recorded all data as planned. The issues that affected flight test objectives were related to the detailed design of the installation of the sensors and these lessons will be incorporated into future flights.

- EFT-1 Orion vehicle performance: All separation events were successful within expected time sequence/limits. Guidance Navigation and Control performance was excellent from pre-launch thru ascent, orbit and entry flight phases with all navigation sensors performing nominally. The vehicle attitude control had nominal performance with no subsonic rate instability observed. The guidance system commanded four bank reversals to steer the vehicle during entry resulting in a landing 3 km from the target. Power usage was well within expected limits and all monitored temperatures were within predicted limits during the entire mission. Heater zones cycled during pre-launch and flight, consistent with the day-of-launch conditions. The active cooling system showed nominal ammonia boiler performance, using about half the capability. The heat shield Avcoat charring was consistent with expectations. There were multiple micrometeoroid impacts noted on Crew Module backshell, all less than about 0.3 mm in size. The Communications and Tracking system performed as expected.

- Structures: Both the crew module and service module structures performed as expected. Ascent video and photos showed nominal performance for the service module fairing jettison. Purge and vents performed nominally during prelaunch. The crew module cabin maintained a steady pressure throughout flight. There were no noticeable damages from entry on the star tracker opening and the tow cleats. Salt residue from ocean water was visually noticed on the vehicle in the forward bay and on the 180 degree side of the mid and aft bays. Standing water was found in the heatshield, as expected.

- Mechanisms and Separations: All mechanisms performed as expected throughout all mission phases. Both the SM (Service Module) and LAS T-0 umbilicals retracted with acceptable speed and rotation angles. No recontact was noted on any of the 5 ULA cameras. The gas cloud that was generated was expected and contained pressurized R134 refrigerant from the SM T-0 umbilical. Post-launch inspection of the umbilical ground hardware showed no damage or wear beyond expected levels. The LAS (Launch Abort System) was also successful, including the actuation of all six frangible nuts and separation of all four lanyard connectors. Some debris was noted on the video during LAS jettison. Post-landing inspection of CM (Crew Module) side of the mechanism found nothing anomalous.

- TPS (Thermal Protection Systems): All TPS system performance was excellent. No backshell tile slumping was noted. All pre-flight repairs for any minor damage performed well. No anomalies were noted with the tile-to-tile gaps or the gap fillers. No anomalies were noted with the thermal barriers. The Avcoat performance on the heatshield was excellent. The initial inspection appears to indicate slightly higher than predicted ablation and recession downstream of the compression pads for the CM-SM (Crew Module-Service Module) retention and release mechanism. No Avcoat cracking was noted on initial inspection. Further detailed inspection is being completed at the NASA/MSFC (Marshal Space Flight Center). There was no significant growth around the ports in the Avcoat for the developmental flight instrumentation pressure sensors or radiometers during the flight. There was also no unusual surface recession around the thermocouple plugs, the repair plugs, or the fastener plugs. A post-flight contamination examination of two backshell tile core sample plugs revealed RTV and Avcoat constituents.

- APW (Avionics, Power and Wiring): The APW system included command and data handing, communications and tracking, developmental flight instrumentation, the electrical power subsystem, harness, GN&C avionics, the power and data units, and the video subsystems. The APW subsystems and the overall system performed exceptionally well. The margins at the subsystem level were as expected or better. Instrumentation data integrity was maintained overall. Only expected radiation impacts were noted. Several vision processing unit video FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) resets were observed in flight. The various root causes were anticipated and the ensuing FPGA reset was instigated by software as designed to resolve each issue. Each root cause is understood and either doesn't apply for the upcoming exploration missions or will be resolved within the new exploration mission designs. There were no radiation induced resets of the vehicle management computers.

- Flight software: The flight software overall performance was excellent. There were no faults detected. The timeline analysis of phases, segments, and events was as expected. One minor issue that was noted was that some telemetry logging onboard stopped shortly after landing. This was due to a configuration setting error. Also, a single video activation sequence failed in-flight. The root cause was a timing issue, believed to be resolved prior to flight. Commands were designed to account for similar issues. Mission control issued a command during the flight to correct the failure and the sequence was successful upon re-execution. Such timing issues will be addressed by sequence and video design changes.

- Radiation summary: Multiple radiation detectors were flown on EFT-1 to measure the intra-vehicular radiation environment during the inner (proton) Van Allen Belts passage. RAMs (Radiation Area Monitors) were located inside the vehicle to gather dosages induced going through the Van Allen Belts internal to the crew module to understand the radiation protection characteristics of the design. Six RAMs were positioned at different locations inside the capsule. Pre-flight analyses based on Orion CAD models and EFT-1 design environments were performed to predict RAM exposure. In addition, a student design competition, called the EDC (Exploration Design Challenge), was an outreach initiative by NASA, LM, and the National Institute of Aerospace. The competition winning team designed, manufactured and delivered a radiation shielding experiment called "Tesseract" that was flown inside the crew module and included ten passive dosimeters, courtesy of Oklahoma State University. A NASA BIRD (Battery-operated Independent Radiation Detector) was also flown inside the crew module and included an active radiation monitor capable of time-resolved particle flux measurements. The results provide an increased confidence in the Orion radiation analysis and crew protection approach.

- EFT-1 lessons learned: Almost as important as the data collected from the mission for vehicle performance are the lessons learned during the development, manufacturing, and operations phases.

- Reuse: The crew module has been returned to the KSC O&C (Operations and Checkout) facility for evaluation. A cursory review of the crew module indicates the avionics, propulsion, and some structural systems are good candidates for re-use, both inside the pressure vessel and outside the pressure vessel.

• Sept. 1, 2015: NASA's Orion EFT-1 spacecraft that flew into space in December 2014, has completed its trek from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Littleton, Colorado, facility of Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Engineers will perform final decontamination of the crew module, continue post-flight analysis and evaluate a new acoustic technology to determine if the method can produce enough energy to simulate the acoustic loads Orion will experience during launch and ascent atop NASA's SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. 45)


Figure 14: Engineers at Lockheed Martin's facility near Denver examine Orion EFT-1 upon its arrival (image credit: Lockheed Martin)

• May 11, 2015: The Orion heat shield analysis work is led by researchers from NASA/ARC (Ames Research Center) in Moffett Field, CA, while NASA/MSFC engineers lead the physical machining effort. The team will spend the rest of May removing the final scorched squares of ablative material - and the sophisticated data-gathering sensors embedded in many of them - by hand. The sensors, designed and fabricated at Ames, collected critical entry environment and thermal protection performance data during the EFT-1 flight. 46)


Figure 15: Engineers from NASA/ARC and NASA/MSFC remove segments of a heat-resistant material called Avcoat from the surface of the Orion heat shield, the protective shell designed to help the next-generation crew module and its future occupants withstand the heat of atmospheric reentry. The work is being conducted in the seven-axis milling machine facility at Marshall (image credit: NASA/MSFC)

• May 4, 2015: A forensic level investigation into the condition of the TPS (Thermal Protection System) on the Orion EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test -1) has evaluated the level of MMOD (MicroMeteoroid and Orbital Debris) damage on the vehicle. Orion's MMOD impacts were evaluated by the HVIT (Hypervelocity Impact Technology) Group, showing the vehicle suffered more MMOD damage than the computation models had predicted. 47)

- MMOD is the unseen threat that all spacecraft need to be protected from, not least because they are impossible to track and thus avoid. This is in contrast to the larger debris threats that the ISS can dodge via a DAM (Debris Avoidance Maneuver).

- Impacts from MMOD strikes are usually noticed when they strike areas such as windows of the spacecraft. Such strikes were observed on a large amount of Space Shuttle missions, especially late into the mission when the orbiter had undocked from the protection of the ISS and was preparing to head home.

- Although spacecraft are designed with a level of protection from such impacts, MMOD was the third biggest threat to losing an orbiter during her mission – second only to launch and reentry.

- EFT-1 Orion's maiden flight raised the bar on the altitude, rising high above the ISS' orbit and beyond that of Hubble. The first orbit had an apogee altitude of 890 km and a perigee of 200 km. The second orbit reached an apogee of 5,808 km. — The data is already being fed into the next Orion – for EM-1 (Exploration Mission -1) – which is already undergoing construction at the MAF (Michoud Assembly Facility). MAF is a NASA/MSFC facility located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

- After being successfully recovered in the Pacific Ocean off of San Diego. NASA civil servants and contractors conducted an extensive evaluation of the vehicle's condition at the Naval Base San Diego Mole Pier. Visually, Orion appeared to be in great shape, with no obvious damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). These inspections were carried out by the Johnson Space Center's HVIT Group as well as Lockheed Martin personnel from Denver.

- Further inspections were conducted once Orion had arrived at the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Capsule areas that were examined during the inspection campaign include the back shell thermal protection system tiles, back shell thermal barriers, reaction control system thruster nozzles, base heat shield acreage, docking hatch thermal protection system blankets, docking hatch window, and crew module windows. The inspections included an initial screening for defects and anomalies, examination for distinctive hypervelocity impact (HVI) features, location and a detailed investigation to discern details of impact source.

- An as-flown analysis was performed by Lockheed Martin against the final trajectory using the Bumper 3 code and the ORDEM 3 orbital debris environment. Preliminary results indicate that more damage was observed than predicted by the as-flown assessment.

- The team's work is still ongoing, with a similar assessment performed for window damage based on internal fracture diameter and ORDEM 3 predicted 0.2 features of 0.3 mm and greater diameter. That assessment work is still underway.

- Meanwhile, the EFT-1 heat shield is currently undergoing Avcoat extraction at the NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center). The NASA thermal protection system and structures personnel are on site to witness the machining and inspect the material.

• April 28, 2015: NASA's management team for Orion's flight test in December 2014, called EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test-1) and the industry team that supported the flight were both recognized with Stellar Awards for their efforts, while Orion's hardware development team from Lockheed Martin, which is NASA's prime contractor for Orion, was also recognized. 48)

• April 2, 2015: The EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test-1) on Dec. 5, 2014 was intended to test various Orion systems, including separation events, avionics, heat shielding, parachutes, and recovery operations prior to its debut launch aboard the SLS (Space Launch System). 49)

- The design of this mission corresponded to the Apollo 4 mission of 1967, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the Apollo flight control systems and the heat shield's ability to withstand reentry conditions, as part of the spacecraft's return from lunar missions.

- After being retrieved, the heat shield was transported by land to the NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center), where it was offloaded and transferred to a large support structure so engineers could perform studies on it for the next three months. This will consist of collecting samples from the shield to measure their char layers and degree of erosion and ablation, as well as extracting the various instruments embedded in the heat shield to assess their performance during reentry.

- After the analysis is complete, technicians will load the shield into the 7-axis milling machine and machining center, where it will be grind down to remove the remaining material covering. Known as Avcoat, this heat-retardant substance is similar to what the Apollo missions used, with the exception of toxic materials like asbestos. This material is used to fill the 320,000 honeycomb-like cells that make up the outer layer of the shield. When heated, the material burns away (i.e., it ablates) in order to prevent heat being transferred into the crew module. This shield is placed over the craft's titanium skeleton and carbon-fiber skin, providing both protection and insulation for the interior.

- Once all the Avcoat is removed and only the skeletal frame remains, it will be shipped to NASA/LaRC (Langley Research Center) in Hampton, Virginia, for more tests. Since the Orion was returning from a greater distance in space than anything since Apollo, it experienced far greater heat levels than anything in recent decades, reaching as high as 2200 °C.

- Instrumentation in the shield measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during reentry as well as the ablation rate of the shield's coating. Over the next few months, NASA experts will be pouring over this data to see just how well the Orion shield held up under extreme heat. But so far, the results look positive – with only 20% of the Avcoat burning away on the test-flight reentry.

- In the future, the Orion spacecraft will be launched on Space Launch System on missions that will take it to nearby asteroids and eventually to Mars. The first mission to carry astronauts is not expected to take place until 2021 at the earliest.


Figure 16: Larry Gagliano, Orion project manager at NASA/MSFC, photographed in front of the spaceship's heat shield (image credit: Lee Roop,

• March 11, 2015: The heat shield for NASA's Orion spacecraft that successfully survived a high-velocity reentry during its December 2014 flight test, is continuing its journey, now at NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) in Huntsville, Alabama. The heat shield arrived March 9 at Marshall, where experts from the Center and NASA's Ames Research Center will extract samples of the ablative material, or Avcoat. 50)

- The heat shield was offloaded and transferred to a large support structure to allow the engineers to conduct their work. The samples will be used to help measure the char layers and degree of erosion or ablation. They'll also extract the various instruments in the heat shield to assess their performance.


Figure 17: During Orion's test flight the heat shield reached temperatures of about 2,200ºC. Instrumentation in the heat shield measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during reentry as well as heating levels and pressures (image credit: NASA/MSFC, Emmett Given)

- Heat shield technology: The heat shield with a diameter of 5 m, consists of a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure that fits over Orion's titanium skeleton and carbon-fiber skin. Each of the 320,000 cells is filled with an ablative material that provides some insulation and consumes heat energy by chemical decomposition and gas release. Instrumentation in the Avcoat and back shell tiles measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during reentry as well as heating levels and pressures. Additional instrumentation in the Avcoat recorded how the surface recedes as it consumes heat energy.

- Avcoat is designed to ablate as the material heats up, rather than transfer the heat back into the crew module. At its thickest, the heat shield is 4 cm thick. Roughly 20 percent of the Avcoat eroded as Orion traveled through Earth's atmosphere.

• Feb. 27, 2015: Engineers across the country have been busy taking a closer look at Orion and the data it produced during its successful flight test in December. At NASA/KSC (Kennedy Space Center) in Florida, technicians removed the spacecraft's back shell and heat shield, which protected Orion as it reentered Earth's atmosphere at searing temperatures. Removing the back shell allows the team to get a closer look at Orion's systems to see how they fared during the trip to space. The heat shield was removed in preparation for shipment to NASA/MSFC ( Marshall Space Flight Center) in Huntsville, Alabama, where special equipment will be used to remove its ablative material. From there, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA/LaRC (Langley Research Center) in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be outfitted on a test article for water impact testing. Meanwhile, NASA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, continue to take a look at the data the flight test produced to validate pre-flight models and improve the spacecraft's design. A 90-day report examining the flight will be delivered to NASA by Lockheed Martin in early March. 51)

• Jan. 9, 2015: NASA and Lockheed Martin have decided to change a critical component of the Orion spacecraft's heat shield for its next test flight in 2018 to include an advanced 3-D woven thermal protect system fabric that will help insure maximum safety for our astronauts returning from deep space expeditions as the vehicle experiences blistering reentry heating. It's a must-have for Destination Mars. 52)

- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden got a first-hand look at the advanced woven fabric textiles as he personally inspected the "quartz material" component during an inspection tour of BRM (Bally Ribbon Mills) of Bally, PA, an American small business company.


Figure 18: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) holds Orion EM-1 3-D woven heat shield hardware produced by Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, PA at a NASA media briefing on Jan. 9, 2015 (image credit: Ken Kremer, AmericaSpace)

- BRM is weaving a multifunctional Quartz "preform" material that will be used in TPS (Thermal Protection System) pads that insulate the Orion spacecraft and human crews onboard so they can survive the scorching 2200º C temperatures generated during reentry into Earth's atmosphere after returning from journeys to far-flung destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.

- Following Orion-EFT-1's launch and atmospheric reentry on Dec. 5, 2015, the capsule approached speeds of 32,000 km/h, or about 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from journeys beyond Earth.

- The current 2-D pads are not suitable as protection from the higher temperatures caused by higher speed reentries resulting from voyages back from deep space destinations. The 2-D carbon phenolic (CP) material used for EFT-1 had a relatively low interlaminar strength, which was satisfactory for the test flight and performed as expected.

- Bally's 3-D quartz fiber material is woven using a newly developed version of a "Jacquard loom."


Figure 19: Whole capsule view of Orion heat shield and compression pads during homecoming event for NASA's first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 18, 2014 (image credit: Ken Kremer, AmericaSpace)

• Dec. 22, 2014: In 2014, NASA took significant steps on the agency's journey to Mars — testing cutting-edge technologies and making scientific discoveries while studying our changing Earth and the infinite universe as the agency made progress on the next generation of air travel. 53)

• Dec. 18, 2014: After traveling about 3,300 miles above Earth including 600 miles over sea, NASA's Orion spacecraft completed the final leg of its journey by land on Dec. 18, arriving home at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft's cross-country return, a 2,700 mile road trip from Naval Base San Diego to Kennedy, sets the stage for in-depth analysis of data obtained during Orion's trip to space and will provide engineers detailed information on how the spacecraft fared during its two-orbit, 4.5 hour flight test, completed on Dec. 5, 2014. 54)

- An initial inspection of the crew module turned up nothing unexpected. There were indications of some micrometeoroid orbital debris strikes on the sides of Orion, which was anticipated.

- With the spacecraft back at Kennedy, where it was assembled and prepared for launch, engineers will be able to remove the back shell of the spacecraft and perform inspections of its cabling, fluid lines, propulsion system and avionics boxes. Heat shield samples already have been removed and sent to a laboratory where their thickness, strength and charring will be examined. The information will be used to make improvements to Orion's design before its next flight, Exploration Mission-1, when it will launch uncrewed on top of NASA's new SLS (Space Launch System) for the first time into a large orbit around the moon.


Figure 20: NASA's Orion spacecraft returned to the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Dec. 18, 2014 (image credit: NASA)

- NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX's first milestone in the company's path toward launching crews to the ISS (International Space Station) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency. During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station. 55)

- On Sept. 16, 2014, NASA unveiled its selection of SpaceX and Boeing to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their Crew Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, respectively. These contracts will end the nation's sole reliance on Russia and allow the station's current crew of six to increase, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

• Dec. 10, 2014: The EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered at sea, brought to land, and off-loaded (Dec. 8) in the Naval Base San Diego by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin. 56) 57)

- Orion will be hauled on a flatbed truck across the US for a nearly two-week trip back to KSC (Kennedy Space Center) where it will arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays. Technicians at KSC will examine every nook and cranny of Orion, and will disassemble it for up close inspection and lessons learned.


Figure 21: The Orion crew module is being moved into a covered structure at the Mole Pier at Naval Base San Diego in California where it will be prepared for return to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: Universe Today)

• Dec. 9, 2014: Following a picture perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014, flawless test flight and safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, NASA first Orion spacecraft has been recovered from the ocean and brought back onshore in California. The entire system of reentry hardware, commands and parachutes performed flawlessly. The only minor glitch was the failure of one of the three crew module uprighting bags to inflate. Nevertheless the capsule was in an upright position in the ocean waters (Figure 23). 58) 59)


Figure 22: After the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, the Orion crew module was recovered by the USS Anchorage (image credit: U.S. Navy)

• On Dec. 5, 2014, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 16:29 UTC about 1000 km west of Baja, California after completing a two-orbit, just about 4.5 hour flight test that took it farther into space than any spacecraft built for humans has been in more than 40 years. NASA and the U.S. Navy, along with Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin recovered Orion and returned it to shore. Flight analysis was handled by the more than 1,000 sensors aboard the spacecraft.

- At 16:18 UTC, Orion slammed into the atmosphere, starting to slow down from 32,000 km/hr. Plasma started building up around the vehicle, causing a two and a half minute blackout in communications. As the craft reentered, the ablative heat shield slowly burned away, creating a boundary layer to separate the extremely hot shock layer gas from the spacecraft. Experiencing a peak temperature of 2,200°C on its heat shield and 1,730°C on the backshell, Orion blazed down the dense atmosphere, slowing down to 480 km/hr for the jettisoning of its Forward Bay Cover to expose the parachute compartment. 60)

- Orion successfully deployed its two Drogue Chutes when passing through an altitude of around 7 ½ km above the Pacific. The Drogues slowed the craft down to about 160 km/hr before being cut, allowing the deployment of the three red-and-white main chutes through three Pilot Chutes that were ejected from pneumatic mortars to pull out the 35 m diameter main chutes. Going through two reefing stages, the main chutes were fully opened, slowing Orion down to its final speed for splashdown.


Figure 23: Orion crew module after splash down in the Pacific Ocean with the Crew Module Uprighting System bags deployed and the USS Anchorage in the background that concludes its first test flight on the EFT-1 mission on Dec. 5, 2014 (image credit: U.S. Navy)

- Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 pilots in two H60-S Seahawk helicopters took off from the deck of the USS Anchorage. They took thermal imagery of Orion as it descended and separation events including forward bay cover jettison, searched the seas for Orion's splashdown location and sent word back to the ships (Ref. 59).

- One hour after splashdown, the flight control team that saw Orion through its flight handed control of the vehicle off to the recovery team. Orion was powered down, put in a safe mode, and the recovery process began. U.S. Navy divers in several rigid hull and Zodiac boats proceeded to Orion.

- Divers took underwater photos of Orion's heat shield. Then, they attached a collar and winch line to the spacecraft. A series of tending lines also were attached to help safely tow Orion into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage and positioned it over rubber "speed bumps." Team members inside the well deck helped to secure the tether lines as the water drained and Orion settled onto its landing area. Two of the three main parachutes were recovered and lifted onto the USS Anchorage.


Figure 24: Photo of NASA's Orion spacecraft floating safely down toward the Pacific Ocean under its three massive main parachutes on Dec. 5, 2014 (image credit: NASA, James Blair)


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53) David Weaver, "NASA Takes Giant Leaps on the Journey to Mars, Eyes Our Home Planet and the Distant Universe, Tests Technologies and Improves the Skies Above in 2014," NASA, Release 14-331, URL:

54) Rachel Kraft, Brandi Dean, Amber Philman, "NASA's Orion Arrives Back at Kennedy, Media Invited to View Spacecraft," NASA Release 14-339, Dec. 18, 2014, URL:

55) Stephanie Schierholz, Stephanie Martin, "SpaceX Completes First Milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System," NASA, News Release 14-340, Dec. 19, 2014, URL:

56) Ken Kremer, "Orion Off-Loaded for Cross Country Trek to Florida Home Base," Universe Today, Dec. 11, 2014, URL:

57) Linda Herridge, "NASA, U.S. Navy Recover Orion from Pacific Ocean," NASA, Dec. 10, 2014, URL:

58) Ken Kremer, "NASA's First Orion Back on Land after Flawless Ocean Recovery," Universe Today, Dec. 9, 2014, URL:


60) Patrick Blau, "Orion EFT-1 Mission Updates," Dec. 5, 2014, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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