Space

Orion crew capsule powers up in preparation for deep-space flight test

Orion crew capsule powers up i...
Artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft
Artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft
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Artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft
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Artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft
The Orion crew module for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is secured in a work station in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
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The Orion crew module for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is secured in a work station in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Lockheed Martin and NASA recently fired up the power systems on the latest Orion crew module. The second Orion capsule slated for spaceflight and the first to be human-rated, this initial power-up at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida marks the first time that the spacecraft's vehicle management computers and the power and data units were installed and brought online.

The power-on test was part of the run up to the three-week Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2019, during which the unmanned Orion capsule and its service module will be launched atop NASA's Space Launch System on a deep-space flight test that will see it fly over 40,000 mi (64,000 km) beyond the Moon's orbit. This flight will test most of the avionics and subsystems that will be needed when later missions carry astronauts aboard.

Such unmanned testing is necessary because the computers and software need to reliably process 480,000,000 instructions per second to execute thousands of commands and sequences while controlling hundreds of spacecraft systems and components in a high-radiation environment in deep space. In addition, EM-1 will demonstrate the integrated system performance of the capsule and the solar power system capable of running eight three-bedroom houses.

The Orion crew module for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is secured in a work station in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
The Orion crew module for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is secured in a work station in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

For the tests, the vehicle management computers were connected to Orion's power and data units, and the engineers evaluated the ability of the systems to communicate with each other and route power and commands in the spacecraft. Over the next two or three months, the 55 components of the avionics will be integrated into Orion's almost 400 harnesses and subjected to functional tests.

"The initial power-on procedure verified the health and status of Orion's core computers and power and data units and marks the beginning of critical spacecraft subsystem tests to get us ready for flight," says Mark Kirasich, NASA Orion program manager. "Our test team, ground support equipment and flight systems all performed remarkably well during the test. This is a major milestone for Orion and for our long range deep space exploration plans."

Sources: Lockheed Martin, NASA

4 comments
Aussie_2017
"Such unmanned testing is necessary because the computers and software need to reliably process 480,000,000 instructions per second to execute thousands of commands and sequences while controlling hundreds of spacecraft systems and components in a high-radiation environment in deep space" Really??? So those astronauts from Apollo missions where super humans or am I missing something here? I don't know today everything seem to take longer and costs more than should. It's odd because I can bet that such probably when they have everything good to go, Space X and/or other companies will have better solutions and maybe even be flying far.
SimonClarke
Lol, I was going to post a comment about the number of operations per second required compared to Apollo but Aussie 2017 beat me to it. there is no way that anything of that specification is required. launching is fairly simple but once you are in cruise you just float in a straight line gradually changing direction caused by local gravitational forces. my mobile (cell) phone has more than enough capacity to work that out.
BrianK56
It's funny how we all thought the same thing. It was advertised that the Apollo missions had a computer that was as powerful as a calculator from the 1990s. Those boys did just fine.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
There should be a crash program to move Earth crossing asteroids into circular Earth orbit or the L5 point. The larger of these could become interstellar exploratory vessels.