As NASA prepares for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), the first flight of the agency's Orion spacecraft, engineers are tending to every detail of the mission – especially how to keep Orion and its future crews safe during launch.
As part of that, they have created a diaphragm for the adapter made to separate the launch vehicle from Orion.
“The structure we built is a barrier,” explained Kevin Rivers, NASA Langley’s Orion Launch Abort System project manager. “Its primary purpose is to form a space above the hydrogen tank that can be purged with nitrogen to prevent hydrogen gas build up - to ensure the safety of the crew.”
Before EFT-1, the diaphragm, a light-weight composite structure, will be integrated into the stage adapter, which was designed and built by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Marshall manages the Space Launch System (SLS) program for the agency and is designing the stage adapter once for both the EFT-1 and future SLS flights starting in 2017. The SLS is America’s next generation rocket that will carry the Orion spacecraft, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments into deep space.
Before integration, however, the bowl-shaped structure will undergo pressurized testing at Marshall to verify that it can handle loads during flight. A vacuum system will apply loads on the structure – simulating the worst-case environment and certifying it for flight conditions.
EFT-1 will allow engineers to demonstrate the diaphragm in flight, with plenty of time to make any necessary design refinements before astronauts fly onboard.
The diaphragm was designed by a team of NASA Langley Research Center engineers in Hampton, Va., in close collaboration with Marshall. Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Wash., fabricated the structure. The collaboration between the two NASA centers and Janicki Industries made the team’s design to production process seamless.
“Most spacecraft flight structures are highly integrated so when you start carving off pieces of the spacecraft and allowing groups to optimize those pieces that they have, sometimes you don’t always end up with the best integrated solution,” Rivers said. “In this case, it was a really beneficial partnership that resulted in producing a great part.”
Ultimately, collaboration enabled them to optimize performance and mass, and most importantly, help advance human spaceflight.
NASA's Langley Research Center