Nearly a year after an uncrewed Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean, NASA estimates it will take a few more months to resolve a problem. persistent problem with the capsule’s heat shield before a crew can board.
In a recent meeting, NASA officials revealed that the space agency will not proceed with launching the Artemis 2 mission until it understands the heat shield problem and makes changes, SpaceNews reported.
NASA is still studying the performance of the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield, which could take several more months, according to Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.
The space agency is willing to replace heat shield components or roll back some of the spacecraft’s hardware advancements in order to resolve the issue, but for now, the spacecraft is still being prepared for launch as is. “We continue to move forward on the hardware because we see no reason to stop at this time,” Free said. “If we find a reason to stop, we will stop.”
Artemis 2 is scheduled to launch in November 2024. Unlike Artemis 1, the next mission will carry a crew on board. The spacecraft’s heat shield is designed to protect astronauts from extremely hot temperatures during their return to Earth.
After the Artemis 1 mission, follow-up inspections of the capsule revealed a unexpected performance of its thermal shield. During Orion’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft traveled at speeds reaching 24,600 miles per hour (39,590 kilometers per hour) and its heat shield withstood temperatures above 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit . Although NASA engineers predicted that some carbonization would occur, more of the shield’s ablative material came off than expected.
“Some charred material was removed differently than our computer models and what our ground tests predicted,” Howard Hu, Orion program manager for NASA, told reporters in March. “More charred material was released during re-entry than we expected.”
At the time, NASA launched an investigation to learn more about the performance of the heat shield during re-entry. The space agency hopes to get an “interim resolution of the root causes” of the heat shield erosion late next spring, Lakiesha Hawkins, deputy assistant administrator in NASA’s Moon to Mars program office, said during the meeting. “We will make sure we are all comfortable with the root cause of the problem before we start talking about the justification for the theft,” she added.
NASA is still working on spacecraft hardware in preparation for Artemis 2 to keep the mission on track for a 2024 launch date. “Vehicle processing for Artemis 2 continues, but we are doing this simply to trying to manage the schedule,” Hawkins said in SpaceNews. “If we have to go back, if we have to undo certain things, including replacing heat shield components, we are completely open to that.”
It’s still unclear whether the heat shield could affect Artemis 2’s launch date, but the crew has made it clear they will not board Orion unless the issue has been resolved. At a press conference in August, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, commander of the Artemis 2 mission, told Free: “This crew, we’re not going to launch until we know that we We are ready, until our team knows the vehicle is ready. and we will keep the pressure on.
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