AEDC conducts tests for Orion ahead of Artemis launch

  • Published
  • By Deidre Moon
  • AEDC Public Affairs

After several years in the making, NASA launched Artemis 1, an unmanned maiden flight of the integrated Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as part of its Artemis space program.

Since the early flight missions to the moon, teams of Arnold Engineering Development Complex engineers and researchers have assisted in ground testing capabilities and equipment, such as aerodynamic tests on a scale model of a proposed Saturn launch configuration and engine tests for the Apollo program launch system.

Though not as extensive as the testing for the Apollo moon missions, AEDC engineers played a part in the Artemis launch by ensuring the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MPCV, can withstand reentry conditions.

According to Frank Wonder, section chief of the high-enthalpy, arc-heated facilities at Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC, the Space Test Branch tested the MPCV thermal protection system in the H2 arc jet test cell in 2016.

Wonder mentioned that assisting in space program advancements is among many highlights of his job in the AEDC Space Test Branch.

“Our test team takes great pride in the work we do supporting all of our customers,” he said. “In the moment, we are diligent to make sure that any test we’re working is done safely, efficiently and with technical rigor. However, it’s satisfying to learn after the fact how just ‘doing our jobs’ has positively influenced U.S. aeronautical history. In all cases, the data analyzed from arcs testing influences a program decision, either to continue on the present course, based on positive results, or make a needed change.”

Testing for the Orion in support of the NASA Exploration Flight Test-1 on Dec. 5, 2014, was conducted at Arnold in 2012. A 5.9-percent scale model of the Orion crew capsule mounted on the Delta IV booster was tested in the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel in preparation for the spacecraft’s initial flight. The AEDC team worked with United Launch Alliance to gather dynamic pressure and steady state pressure data from the model.

Additionally, the AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 facility in White Oak, Md., was used in 2007 for a NASA-sponsored aerothermal test on a scale model of the Orion to obtain heating data over the model’s surface. That same year, NASA teamed up with AEDC for initial tests of possible materials for Orion’s heat shield at H2.

During the Orion flight in late 2014, the space vehicle orbited Earth twice and traveled a distance of 3,600 miles into space.

According to NASA’s website, the latest Orion MPCV is now equipped for missions 1,000 times farther than the International Space Station and must be able to sustain astronauts on its own for weeks at a time and be robust enough to reliably operate in the harsh space environment near the moon and beyond. The heat shield on Orion is able to withstand temperatures nearing 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry.