Image Credit: NASA
As a mission partner for NASA’s Orion spacecraft program, Honeywell Aerospace is among those cheering the successful first flight test today, Dec. 5.
After weather and technical difficulties delayed the planned Dec. 4 launch, the unmanned Orion spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7:05 a.m., covering more than 60,000 miles and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth – farther than any spacecraft built for humans has traveled in more than 40 years.
Just 4 ½ hours later, Orion splashed down in the Pacific off Baja California, where a Honeywell employee was among those aboard the Navy vessels handling Orion recovery and data analysis.
Honeywell Aerospace designed and developed Orion’s command and data handling hardware, navigation systems and core operating software. These systems work together for Orion’s overall flight management, building on Honeywell’s existing technology developed for commercial aircraft.
Orion design, development and production work has been performed by employees at several Aerospace sites, including Clearwater, Phoenix, Houston, Coon Rapids and Minneapolis, Minn.; and Olathe, Kan.
Contributing to the Orion program is just the latest in Honeywell’s longtime involvement in space exploration programs. Aerospace has the distinction of being one of the few U.S. companies that has been part of every NASA manned-space mission.
This first flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, was crucial to validating all Orion systems during space flight to ensure the safety of future manned missions. That included testing of Orion’s crucial heat shield, with the spacecraft reaching temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it returned to Earth’s atmosphere from space.
Other EFT-1 objectives included launching the spacecraft into orbit, performing separation of the launch-abort system, service module and crew module; and testing the descent and landing systems for successful recovery of the crew module as it returned to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA
NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin will use EFT-1 data to further improve Orion’s design for future exploration of Mars, asteroids and more.
Current NASA plans call for Orion to send astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit in 2021, followed by a trip to an asteroid by the mid-2020s, and on to Mars and its moons in the 2030s. The 2021 manned mission will be the first time astronauts have left Earth’s orbit in nearly 50 years; the last time was the Apollo 17 moon shot in 1972.
While the EFT-1 launch was on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, future missions will be launched aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) – an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide a new U.S. capability for human deep-space exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
Tampa Bay's WTSP Channel 10 featured an informative story about Clearwater's contributions to the Orion mission, including an interview with employee Jeff Hegg. To view the story, click here.