NASA simulates emergency aboard Orion spacecraft
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 busyat 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, ateam of astronauts and flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston ran a simulation designedto evaluate the spacecraft's crew display, control system, advancedwarning systems and communication protocols. Under the currentdesign, the crew of an Orion spacecraft would only need to interactwith just three touch screens in order to control vital systems.
"One of the mainthings this simulation was designed for was to figure out what thefirst contact between crew and mission controllers looks like,"states Jeff Fox, of NASA's Rapid Prototyping Lab (RPL). "We wanted to seehow the crew interface systems we're developing work with the teamon the ground."
Beyond this, thesimulation took the form of an Apollo 13-like nightmare scenario inwhich there was a failure in Orion's power system. The team was forced to troubleshoot solutions to get the spacecraft's systems backonline 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 sideof the moon in order to test critical systems prior to a mannedlaunch.