The heat shield of NASA’s Orion spacecraft has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, aboard the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft.
The carbon fibre skinned heat shield, which NASA explains is the largest of its kind ever built, is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March 2014, in preparation for Orion’s first flight test the following September.
“The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being prepared, is a major step toward Exploration Flight Test-1 next year,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development in Washington, US. “Sending Orion into space for the first time is going to give us crucial data to improve our design decisions and develop Orion to send humans on future missions to an asteroid and Mars.”
The heat shield was manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility, Denver, US. Lockheed Martin explains it manufactured the titanium skeleton and carbon fibre skin that gives the heat shield its shape and provides structural support during landing. These components were shipped in March to Textron Defense Systems near Boston, US where they were used in construction of the heat shield itself.
Textron installed a fibre glass-phenolic-honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb’s 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, then X-rayed and sanded each cell to match Orion’s design specifications. The Avcoat-treated shell will shield Orion from the extreme heat it will experience as it returns to Earth. The ablative material will wear away as it heats up during Orion’s re-entry into the atmosphere, preventing heat from being transferred to the rest of the capsule.
“Many people across the country have poured a tremendous amount of hard work into building this heat shield,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. “Their efforts are a critical part of helping us understand what it takes to bring a human-rated spacecraft back safely from deep space.”
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