NASA redesigns heat shield for Orion's EM-1 space mission in 2018

By Money Times

Sep 29, 2015 06:49 AM EDT

NASA is gearing up the Orion heat shield for its first space mission, the EM-1, in 2018. The new heat shield must survive extreme temperatures upon its travel to space.

The engineers of Orion capsule are developing the heat shield for its next test flight in deep space. The team had come up with a new strategy. They are now building the heat shield in blocks instead of a single structure, America Space reported.

They collected data from Orion's EFT-1 (Exploration Flight Test) to study the areas that need improvement before the next flight test.

Data from the previous flight test will determine EM-1's success when it travels near the moon and on Mars. Acting Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich said, "The heat shield we put to the test during Orion's flight test last December met every expectation we had and gave us a tremendous amount of data on its thermal and mechanical performance."

Engadget divulged the engineers had concluded the heat shield from the previous test will not withstand Orion's first mission. So they redesigned the fiberglass honeycomb cover. It is expected that the cover will collapse during its re-entry though it must be robust enough to shield the capsule.

The Orion heat shield will be built by 180 blocks in several stages. According to NASA, the new process will cut costs and will reduce the manufacturing period of two months. Kirasich said assembling them in pieces gave them pointers on how to make it better.

"The process of building the heat shield as a single piece for that flight also gave us insight into how we could improve the way we build this essential element of the spacecraft."

The heat shield is a vital part of the Orion spacecraft. The top layer will armor the crew from extreme temperatures during the Exploration Mission. It will endure burning temperatures of about 4000 degrees Fahrenheit and will speed 80% more upon returning from missions.

Orion will be used for NASA's future manned missions to Mars. But before that, it must first undergo to several tests and years of development. Orion is scheduled to launch its first journey with the SLS rocket in November 2018.

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