Orion spacecraft turns out to be dangerous for the Artemis II crew

During the preparation for the upcoming Artemis II mission, NASA faced a serious problem related to the Orion capsule, which could jeopardize the safety of the crew. A published report from the NASA Office of Inspector General on the space agency’s readiness to launch a manned mission to the Moon in 2025 describes serious problems with the thermal shield and other hardware components discovered after the first Artemis mission in 2022.

NASA’s Artemis II crew members exit a mock-up of the Orion spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean during the URT-11 recovery test on February 25, 2024. Photo: NASA

During Orion’s entry into the atmosphere, the capsule moves at a speed of 39.5 thousand km/h — this is the highest speed at which any spacecraft with a crew returned to Earth. During braking against the Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield heats up to a temperature of more than 2760 °C. The report highlights the criticality of the problem with the Orion heat shield, which unexpectedly broke off in more than 100 places during braking in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Portions of the char layer wore away differently than NASA engineers predicted, cracking and breaking off the spacecraft in fragments that created a trail of debris rather than melting away as designed,” the report says.

The capsule of the Orion spacecraft after landing. Source: NASA

This poses a serious risk to the safety of the crew, as the heat shield cannot reliably protect the capsule from extreme heat. That is why NASA considers the possibility of replacing the components of the heat shield or changing the trajectory of entry into the atmosphere to solve this problem.

NASA also recorded 24 cases of anomalies in the distribution of electricity in the Orion power system during the flight of Artemis I. Engineers determined that the problems were caused by radiation. The report warns that further power distribution anomalies could lead to a potential loss of propulsion and sealing of the spacecraft. 

Of course, the results of the Inspector General’s audit turned out to be disappointing for the space agency. But NASA has accepted all the comments and is now working to implement the recommendations given in the report so that the next flights of the Artemis spacecraft will be safer for astronauts.

The crew of the planned Artemis II mission in the background of the Orion capsule. Photo: Reuters

Earlier we talked about how long it took to fly to the Moon on a spacecraft.

According to gizmodo.com

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