Orion Crew Module Flight Test Article Pathfinder
NASA's Langley Research Center has completed construction of the Orion crew module flight test article pathfinder that will be used for the first full-scale flight test of Orion's launch abort system, Pad Abort-1.
The pathfinder will be used for initial ground-based operations and testing procedures to mitigate risks to the actual Orion crew module flight test article.
Engineers and technicians at Langley designed and fabricated the structure, which represents the size, outer shape and specific mass characteristics of the Orion crew module.
After verification testing at Langley is completed, the pathfinder will be loaded into a C-17 Globemaster III and delivered to the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
At White Sands, ground crews will practice lifting and stacking the pathfinder on the launch pad, an activity that will prepare them to handle the actual Orion flight test article for Pad Abort-1.
The Pad Abort-1 flight test, scheduled for spring 2009, is the first of the Constellation Program flight test campaign and will focus Orion launch abort system's ability to pull the crew module safely away from the launch vehicle in the event of a contingency on the launch pad or during initial ascent.
NASA's Constellation Program is building American's next generation of spacecraft in order to return to the moon, establish an outpost there and eventually move beyond to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.
Constellation includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Ares launch rockets and the Altair lunar lander. The first flight of Orion to the International Space Station is scheduled for no later than 2015, with the first lunar mission occurring no later than 2020.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith