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First Orion spacecraft begins testing


March 24, 2011

Lockheed Martin's Space Operations Simulation Center includes an 18,000 square-foot high bay area, here simulating on-orbit docking maneuvers with full-scale Orion and International Space Station mockups (Photo: NASA)

Lockheed Martin's Space Operations Simulation Center includes an 18,000 square-foot high bay area, here simulating on-orbit docking maneuvers with full-scale Orion and International Space Station mockups (Photo: NASA)

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The first Orion crew module has begun testing at Lockheed Martin's Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) in Denver, Colorado. This 41,000 square foot research facility will test the ability of NASA's next-gen multipurpose exploration spacecraft to safely fly astronauts through the severe environments of deep space. Orion will be phased in as the sun sets on the Space Shuttle Program with the first orbital flight test planned for 2013 and first crewed mission by 2016.

The Orion Spacecraft

While resembling its Apollo-era forerunners, Orion is designed to support long duration deep space missions of up to six months. It incorporates a crew module for crew and cargo transport, service module for propulsion, electrical power and fluids storage, spacecraft adapter for securing it to the launch vehicle, and a launch abort system that will significantly improve crew safety.

In Denver, Orion will be unified with the heat shield and thermal protection layer and be subjected to environmental testing.

The crew module will also perform a series of simulated landing procedures at NASA Langley Research Center's new Hydro Impact Basin to test water landings.

"This is a significant milestone for the Orion project and puts us on the right path toward achieving the President's objective of Orion's first crewed mission by 2016," said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. "Orion's upcoming performance tests will demonstrate how the spacecraft meets the challenges of deep-space mission environments such as ascent, launch abort, on-orbit operations, high-speed return trajectory, parachute deployment, and water landings in a variety of sea states."

Space Operations Simulation Center

SOSC is built upon a 1700 foot deep bedrock formation separated from local seismic disturbances. This foundation produces an ultra stable backdrop for testing precision instruments and accurate navigation systems needed for space vehicles. The multimillion dollar facility will conduct tests to ensure safe, successful human and robotic missions in space and throughout our solar system. The investigations will include rendezvous, docking and proximity operations, and tests on imaging, descent and landing systems. SOSC has showcased simulated missions to an asteroid and the International Space Station using laser and optically guided robotic navigation systems.

The SOSC will test a new navigation and docking system, the STORRM (Sensor Test for Orion RelNav Risk Mitigation) on the upcoming STS-134 shuttle mission to the International Space Station. This test will conduct high altitude orbits and a high energy re-entry that mirror the environments of a deep space mission.

Looking toward the future

Lockheed Martin – the prime contractor for the program – has also been developing a master plan called Stepping Stones, increasingly challenging missions utilizing the Orion spacecraft. These mission scenarios include a mission to the Lagrangian Point over the far side of the moon in 2018, missions to two asteroids in 2019 and 2029, and a mission to the moons of Mars that would include robotic missions to the Martian surface in 2031-35.

"Our nation's next bold step in exploration could begin by 2016," said John Karas, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin's Human Space Flight programs. "Orion was designed from inception to fly multiple, deep-space missions. The spacecraft is an incredibly robust, technically advanced vehicle capable of safely transporting humans to asteroids, Lagrange Points and other deep space destinations that will put us on an affordable and sustainable path to Mars."

Check out Lockheed Martin's overview of the Orion crew exploration vehicle below:


would be nice if it spun to create an artificial gravity effect.

Steven Kennedy

Brilliant. We\'ll have a capsule with nothing to actually loft it into orbit. What\'s that you say? A new HLV will do it in 4 years? Umm, right. SpaceX will do it? Well sure, except they\'ve already launched their own Dragon capsule, so remind me what Orion actually does. This is nothing but a jobs program.

For better or worse we\'re stuck with SpaceX. Hope they keep delivering.

Plasma Junkie

It\'s like the Shuttle never happened, starting over with an up-sized version of the Apollo. Just look back at plans from the late 1960\'s and early 1970\'s. Orion is where things would have been circa 1980 if not for anti-space luddites like William Proxmire and congresscritters who squashed the Apollo program in favor of the Shuttle Transport System money pit. There were grand promises of Shuttles launching monthly, eventually weekly. What we got was essentially a small run of hand built prototypes which were 1960\'s jetliner construction wrapped in a heat shield and made to fly at hypersonic speed. Now we\'re going back to the ideas of 35 years ago, just updated with newer technology, but still dropping them in the ocean. This is \"high technology\"? NASA should get out of the space vehicle business and stick to research and development - flying their stuff on privately designed, built and owned ships.

Facebook User

Hey guys, don\'t be so negative. I see we\'ve discovered fire! We burn stuff and it explodes, taking us through the earth\'s atmosphere whilst billowing plumes of dirty pollution ridden smoke. What more could we want?????? An ELECTRIC spaceship??? Now there\'s an idea!


The shuttle was silly... never could leave orbit... and nobody EVER used the shuttle as the designers had thought it might have been used... to carry gear up and DOWN all the time... satelites launch themselves these days, rovers can do so much more... which makes 80% of the shuttle useless and needlesly expensive. All we Need is a capsule (and a way to lift it)... sticking to that system, as the russians have and as all private systems do, is the smart move and is what we should have done all along. notice if you will that the various other \'capsule\' driven systems are NOT being mothballed... becuase they are Usefull and the right size for the Job.

Capsules are Smarter, the size is more appropriate, water landings are FAR CHEAPER and easyer... we shouldn\'t be wasting money on ships that we don\'t need and systems that are pointlessly more expensive for the sake of placating people who don\'t know what they\'re talking about.

Also, as for launch, only Hydrogen fuel has the capability to reach Escape Velocity. you cannot launch into orbit with just anything... electric is not currently possible, and no, those rockets (hydrogen) do not create polution or smoke... it\'s WATER VAPOR. (mind you, solid rockets do, but that\'s just to get you closer to escape velocity before you kick the hydrogen on... it\'s the only thing that works.) but hey, once in orbit, it\'s clearly a solar powered system... which is good...

Jonathan Clark

Um the delivery vehicles for these ships have been canceled by the current administration. Why are we spending money on things that will never be used????

Michael Mantion

Japan: They were nuked at the end of WWII, 20 years later they designed, built and delivered cars to the USA/world, 20 years after that they had the BEST cars in the world.

America: 1969 we landed on the moon, 20 years later we took the Shuttle into a mere useless orbit (1/5,000th as far as the moon), and 20 years after that the Shuttle was canceled so now we are back to walking. Oh and building capsules we\'ll never use.

I snicker.

Facebook User

You can make hydrogen with solar and tidal energy.

A solar powered space service is possible.

Lift elevators seem the better long term idea. I suspect however, without any new energy efficient technology, that whether a elevator or a rocket you have to put the same effort into lift for your payload. But of course an elevator may be lighter and so use less energy.

Paul Fletcher CEO www.e-si.com

The building of a craft capable of inter solar travel limited to size weight and shaped needed to launch from earth then crashing it back on earth time and time again is stupid when you could just build it in space as large as wanted park it at a space station and take a cheap light ride back and forth to the station with fuel and supplies then go around the solar system as you like is a much better idea.

Joseph Mertens

It looks like NASA figured out that some times the best step forward is one backward. It really does look like the old Apollo system on steroids.

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