News Sci/Tech Orion's First Test Drive: Evaluating Manual Handling Qualities

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Orion's First Test Drive: Evaluating Manual Handling Qualities

By Rachel H. Kraft

Astronauts are gearing up for an exciting milestone: the inaugural test drive of NASA's Orion spacecraft during the upcoming Artemis II mission. While many of Orion's maneuvers are automated, a crucial evaluation awaits—the proximity operations demonstration.

Proximity Operations Demonstration

During this approximately 70-minute test, set to occur about three hours into the mission, the crew will take the reins and command Orion through a series of moves. The focus? Assessing how well the spacecraft responds when astronauts are at the controls.

One key aspect of this test involves the detached upper stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), this in-space propulsion component features an approximately two-foot target. The crew will guide Orion using translational and rotational hand controllers, ensuring precise alignment with the ICPS.

Why Is This Test Important?

“There are always differences between a ground simulation and what an actual spacecraft will fly like in space,” explains Brian Anderson, Orion rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “The demonstration helps us reduce risk for future missions involving rendezvous and docking with other spacecraft.”

Orion's Maneuvers

Once safely in space, Orion will separate from the Moon rocket's upper stage. The crew will initiate an automated backflip, positioning Orion to face the stage. As they approach within approximately 30 feet, the crew will meticulously evaluate the spacecraft's fine handling qualities.

Orion's performance during these close maneuvers will inform future missions, including rendezvous with other spacecraft, such as Starship on Artemis III and the Gateway.

With this test drive, Orion is poised to prove its mettle as humanity's vehicle for venturing farther into the cosmos.

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