Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orion Too Heavy for Its Parachutes

An Orion crew capsule under construction in Kennedy Space Center's Operations & Checkout Building. Image source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that the Orion crew vehicle and its service module weigh far beyond the Space Launch System's design limit.

Specifications call for the Orion capsule and its service module to weigh 73,500 lb. at liftoff. Lately the capsule has been running “something like 4,000” lb. over its allotted weight, [NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Dan] Dumbacher says. The service module is about 1,200 lb. too heavy.

While the baseline SLS probably can handle the extra weight, the parachutes that will bring the capsule back to a water landing after re-entry cannot, Dumbacher says. Going into the integrated review, design teams have been wringing out the extra weight on the capsule, he says, and an upcoming flight test atop a Delta IV heavy may allow engineers to cut their margins to save more weight.

Scheduled for September 2014, the flight test will take an Orion test article through a highly elliptical orbital trajectory designed to bring it back into the atmosphere at about 80% of the velocity it would see returning from the Moon or beyond.

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