NASA's Orion Spacecraft Proves Sound Under Pressure

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June 6, 2013

Amber Philman
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Rachel Kraft
Headquarters, Washington

Brandi Dean
Johnson Space Center, Houston

RELEASE: 13-174


WASHINGTON -- After a month of being poked, prodded and pressurized in 
ways that mimicked the stresses of spaceflight, NASA's Orion crew 
module successfully passed its static loads tests on Wednesday.

When Orion launches on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is 
targeted for September 2014, it will travel farther from Earth than 
any spacecraft built for humans in more than 40 years. The spacecraft 
will fly about 3,600 miles above Earth's surface and return at speeds 
of approximately 25,000 mph. During the test, Orion will experience 
an array of stresses, or loads, including launch and re-entry, the 
vacuum of space, and several dynamic events that will jettison 
hardware away from the spacecraft and deploy parachutes.

To ensure Orion will be ready for its flight test next year, engineers 
at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida built a 20-foot-tall static 
loads test fixture for the crew module with hydraulic cylinders that 
slowly push or pull on the vehicle, depending on the type of load 
being simulated. The fixture produced 110 percent of the load caused 
by eight different types of stress Orion will experience during 
EFT-1. More than 1,600 strain gauges recorded how the vehicle 
responded. The loads ranged from as little as 14,000 pounds to as 
much as 240,000 pounds.

"The static loads campaign is our best method of testing to verify 
what works on paper will work in space," said Charlie Lundquist, 
NASA's Orion crew and service module manager at the agency's Johnson 
Space Center in Houston. "This is how we validate our design."

In addition to the various loads it sustained, the Orion crew module 
also was pressurized to simulate the effect of the vacuum in space. 
This simulation allowed engineers to confirm it would hold its 
pressurization in a vacuum and verify repairs made to superficial 
cracks in the vehicle's rear bulkhead caused by previous pressure 
testing in November.

The November test revealed insufficient margin in an area of the 
bulkhead that was unable to withstand the stress of pressurization. 
Armed with data from that test, engineers were able to reinforce the 
design to ensure structural integrity and validate the fix during 
this week's test.

To repair the cracks, engineers designed brackets that spread the 
stress of being pressurized to other areas of the module that are 
structurally stronger. During these tests, Orion was successfully 
pressurized to 110 percent of what it would experience in space, 
demonstrating it is capable of performing as necessary during EFT-1.

For information about Orion, visit: 


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