NASA launches tests on Orion spacecraft ahead of missions to the Moon

Max Blenkin

NASA is set to begin a comprehensive round of tests on the Orion spacecraft in the lead up to its planned uncrewed mission around the moon and back.

NASA launches tests on Orion spacecraft ahead of missions to the Moon
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Orion, which will carry astronauts to the moon and eventually Mars, was flown aboard NASA’s Super Guppy transport aircraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the NASA Plum Brook test station in Ohio.

There it will undergo testing inside the world’s largest vacuum chamber.

That will start with a thermal test with Orion's various systems be powered up in a space-like environment.

"During this phase, the spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from minus 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit [minus 160 to 150 degrees Celsius], to replicate flying in and out of sunlight and shadow in space," NASA officials explained in a statement.

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"The second phase is an electromagnetic interference and compatibility test, lasting about 14 days. This testing will ensure the spacecraft’s electronics work properly when operated at the same time."

Orion will then be ferried back to Kennedy Space Center for the start of integration with the Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis 1 mission, planned for November 2020.

Artemis 1 will send Orion on a three-week uncrewed flight around the moon.

That will be the first mission for the SLS, successor to the Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo missions that sent the first humans to the moon.

It will be the second mission for Orion, which took a brief uncrewed flight into Earth orbit in December 2014. 

That was on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and lasted under five hours, with the Orion recovered after splashing down in the Pacific.

That was NASA’s first test of a human rated spacecraft since the Space Shuttle retired three years earlier.

Orion is a joint US-European project, which has been under development since 2006.

It features a crew module produced in the US by Lockheed Martin and the European Space Agency developed service module, which provides propulsion, power and life support.

The first crewed Orion mission will be Artemis 2, planned for late 2022 to orbit the moon. Artemis 3, planned for some time in 2024, will take humans back to the moon.

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