The testing of the Orion spacecraft continues in preparation for its first uncrewed mission atop the Space Launch System (SLS) slated for 2018. Following vibration testing, ocean recovery testing and its maiden test flight, NASA engineers are busy at work developing and testing the internal display and control components of the spacecraft that will one day carry crews into lunar orbit and, eventually, to Mars.
Space and mass are two things that are at a premium in any spacecraft, and NASA has been able to make significant savings in these areas in terms of the spacecraft's controls. In comparison to the Space Shuttle, where astronauts were required to manipulate almost 2,000 switches and controls in order to pilot the vehicle, Orion's control systems will take up a comparatively tiny amount of room thanks to advances in software and engineering.
Earlier this month, a team of astronauts and flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston ran a simulation designed to evaluate the spacecraft's crew display, control system, advanced warning systems and communication protocols. Under the current design, the crew of an Orion spacecraft would only need to interact with just three touch screens in order to control vital systems.
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"One of the main things this simulation was designed for was to figure out what the first contact between crew and mission controllers looks like," states Jeff Fox, of NASA's Rapid Prototyping Lab (RPL). "We wanted to see how the crew interface systems we're developing work with the team on the ground."
Beyond this, the simulation took the form of an Apollo 13-like nightmare scenario in which there was a failure in Orion's power system. The team was forced to troubleshoot solutions to get the spacecraft's systems back online in order to keep the simulated crew alive.
Additional simulations will be conducted as development of the spacecraft's display, controls and software for crewed flights continues ahead of the planned first launch for Orion in 2018 atop the SLS. Dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), this will see a fully-equipped capsule and service module sent to the far side of the moon in order to test critical systems prior to a manned launch.