Dryden's Orion Team Welcomed Home
For the past four years Dryden's Orion crew module abort flight test team has worked for a successful research flight that went flawlessly May 6.
The team reflected on the journey during a June 24 ceremony at Dryden in which they talked about dedication and sacrifice. The team faced challenges daily as members spent weeks and months away from their families during the 10 months leading up to the launch.
Dryden Exploration Mission Director Brent Cobleigh explained that a basic passenger car could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds and from zero to 100 mph in about 8.6 seconds. For a high-performance sports car, those numbers are from zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds and from zero to 100 mph in 4.2 seconds. That example was offered to illustrate a comparison with the Orion launch abort system and crew module, which went from zero to 60 mph in .28 seconds and from zero to 100 mph in .42 seconds with 500,000 pounds of thrust.
However, the true value of the test flight lies not in its speed, but in its reliability, he said. "You will never take all of the risk out of spaceflight, but teams like ours try to greatly reduce it," Cobleigh said.
The use of a system like the one demonstrated at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where the test took place, can decrease the possibility of losing a crew in the Orion spacecraft from 1 in 559 to one in 1,877 during the launch phase of the mission, he said.
Dryden Center Director David McBride thanked the team at the ceremony.
"Welcome home. You made us proud with a flight that went flawlessly. That is due to the dedication of the team," he said.
Dryden is not unfamiliar with the rocket business. The Orion launch abort system test marked the 663rd rocket-powered flight Dryden has been involved with, McBride said. The complicated integration project also is part of what the center does best, he added.
Regardless of the direction of the agency's space program, McBride told the team that its work on the launch abort system is "the shape of things to come" and will have a valued role in the safety of future space travelers.
Johnson Space Center, Houston, was a key partner in the multi-center effort that also included Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., Glenn Research Center, Ohio, and industry partner Lockheed Martin.
Orion flight test manager Don Reed talked briefly about the crew module's trip, made at an altitude of one mile and at speeds exceeding 500 mph.
"Are you ready to fly again?" Reed asked.
The May 6 flight was so good that the crew module came through essentially unscathed. It was returned to Dryden in June for preparations for another potential launch at White Sands, in 2012, to test the vehicle from a higher altitude.
Reed has worked with Dryden before, with the X-38 crew return vehicle that was air launched from the NASA B-52B during the late 1990s.
"I was comfortable that Dryden could do it, and Dryden had the toughest job with the most sacrifice of anyone," he said. "The people who put their hands on it at the very end make a difference."
Griff Corpening, now based at Johnson Space Center, worked at Dryden during the first two X-43A launches. He is systems engineering and integration lead for the launch abort system test project.
"We did not fully appreciate what we were getting into," he said. "We were confident that this would be fairly easy compared to the X-43. It was pointy, like X-43, but was ground launched. In the end, we could not imagine how challenging it would be in every aspect. For example, we built up the launch facilities from bare ground at the White Sands Missile Range along with all the operations and procedures."
He congratulated the team.
"It was a tremendous accomplishment. Thanks for your sacrifices and thanks to your families. I know there were a lot of missed birthdays and recitals and ball games. We accomplished something that will be talked about for years to come," he said.
The post-flight celebration had some unique aspects, such as a historical perspective by Chuck Rogers, Dryden's abort flight test project manager, of previous launch abort systems, including those from the Apollo program and with the Russian Soyuz. Another unique feature of the celebration was a detailed report from team leads about the kind of work, challenges and efforts that went into the Dryden effort.
Cathy Bahm, Dryden abort flight test deputy project manager, started off that portion of the program and was followed by representatives from safety, engineering, operations, range and project support.
Bahm explained aspects of the testing, from test and validation efforts to integration work, including Lockheed Martin avionics. She also detailed elements of the development of the Mobile Operations Center from an empty trailer to a command center used at the White Sands launch.
"We have an agile team ready for any challenge," she said. "It's one heck of a team."
Matt Redifer, Dryden crew module integrated product team lead, discussed some of his experiences. Redifer discussed a huge number of challenges, including fixing a growing list of broken equipment items, the changing structural loads on the vehicle due to improved understanding of the flight environment, working around cultural differences among project partners and project flight reviews and processes.
Also included in the long list of tasks was the design and installation of 683 sensors, which were divided into 403 sensors for the launch abort system and 280 for the crew module.
David McAllister, abort flight test operations lead, said the team's versatility was a key reason that the launch was a success despite whatever adversity greeted team members at the beginning of each day.
What all of the speakers made clear was that a dynamic and skilled team excelled individually and collectively. They made great sacrifices and made history with the flawless flight. In 2012, the team believes that the effort begun when the crew module was returned to Dryden in June will lead to another great day for NASA and the nation in the effort to protect the people that are sent to space.
By Jay Levine X-Press Editor