The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I is headed to Ohio, where a team of engineers and technicians at our Plum Brook Station stand ready to test it under extreme simulated in-space conditions, like temperatures up to 300°F, at the world’s premier space environments test facility.
Why so much heat? What’s the point of the test? We’ve got answers to all your burning questions.
Here, in the midst of a quiet, rural landscape in Sandusky, Ohio, is our Space Environments Complex, home of the world’s most powerful space simulation facilities. The complex houses a massive thermal vacuum chamber (100-foot diameter and 122-foot tall), which allows us to “test like we fly” and accurately simulate space flight conditions while still on the ground.
Orion’s upcoming tests here are important because they will confirm the spacecraft’s systems perform as designed, while ensuring safe operation for the crew during future Artemis missions.
Tests will be completed in two phases, beginning with a thermal vacuum test, lasting approximately 60 days, inside the vacuum chamber to stress-test and check spacecraft systems while powered on.
During this phase, the spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from -250°F to 300 °F, to replicate flying in-and-out of sunlight and shadow in space.
To simulate the extreme temperatures of space, a specially-designed system, called the Heat Flux, will surround Orion like a cage and heat specific parts of the spacecraft during the test. This image shows the Heat Flux installed inside the vacuum chamber. The spacecraft will also be surrounded on all sides by a cryogenic-shroud, which provides the cold background temperatures of space.
We’ll also perform electromagnetic interference tests. Sounds complicated, but, think of it this way. Every electronic component gives off some type of electromagnetic field, which can affect the performance of other electronics nearby—this is why you’re asked to turn off your cellphone on an airplane. This testing will ensure the spacecraft’s electronics work properly when operated at the same time and won’t be affected by outside sources.
What’s next? After the testing, we’ll send Orion back to our Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be installed atop the powerful Space Launch System rocket in preparation for their first integrated test flight, called Artemis I, which is targeted for 2020.
To learn more about the Artemis program, why we’re going to the Moon and our progress to send the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface by 2024, visit: nasa.gov/moon2mars.
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