NASA has completed space environment testing on its Orion spacecraft, which will be launched as part of the planned Artemis lunar mission. The craft will eventually carry up to four astronauts to the moon in a mission planned to launch in 2024.
The Orion spacecraft was transported last year to NASA’s Plum Brook Station facility in Sandusky, Ohio, a remote test facility for the NASA Glenn Research Center. Plum Brook was chosen because it’s the only NASA facility large enough to test the craft, which will be 5 meters (16.5 feet) in diameter once complete and will have a mass of around 22.7 metric tons (25 tons).
The testing that Orion has gone through at Plum Brook began with two months of thermal vacuum testing, in which low temperatures and a lack of atmosphere were simulated to check that the craft can withstand the space environment. This testing involved subjecting the craft to temperatures from –175 degrees Celsius (-283 degrees Fahrenheit) to 75 degrees Celsius (167 degrees Fahrenheit) in a vacuum, which it passed without issues.
“I think we were all surprised at how well everything did,” Nicole Smith, project manager for the testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, said to ABC News. “When we were doing the thermal vacuum testing, we really planned for it to be more like 62 days, but the vehicle performed so well and the facility performed so well that we didn’t need the extra time. It was in there for 47 days.”
The next step of testing was electromagnetic interference testing, which ensures that all of the electronics on board work correctly and don’t stop working when subjected to various types of electromagnetic noise. Within the service module part of the craft alone, there are nearly seven miles of wiring to connect all 31 components, including engines, propellant tanks, and solar wings.
With these tests complete, the spacecraft is ready to be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where further launch preparations can begin. Preparations include assembling the solar panels and conducting more tests to ensure everything works perfectly.
Marla Perez-Davis, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, said to ABC: “These are exciting times for NASA, as Artemis will usher in the new era of space exploration and light our way to Mars.”