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NASA's Orion edges closer to space (photos)

With plans the space agency announced Tuesday for an unmanned flight test in 2014, it showed that it is determined to move forward with its deep space exploration goals.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 24 NASA

Preparing for a splash

The Orion boilerplate test article, or BTA, was painted at Langley Air Force Base and then moved to a nearby facility for the installation of instruments prior to test preparation. The BTA was also the first piece of Orion equipment at Langley's Hydro Impact Basin.
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Lift off

On May 6, 2010, the Orion launch abort system was launched during the Pad Abort 1 flight test at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
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3 of 24 NASA

At White Sands

On April 5, 2010, "The launch abort system for the Pad Abort-1 (PA-1) flight is prepared on the launch pad for the test at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico," NASA said on its Web site. "The integrated flight test will evaluate the ability of a launch abort system to pull the module and an astronaut crew to safety in the event of an emergency on a launch pad."
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MPCV Stack

This is the full Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle stack, as seen in an official NASA diagram.
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Abort motor ship preparation

This is the abort motor that is part of the Orion CEV's launch safety system. Here, we see crew members getting ready to ship the abort motor from ATK's Salt Lake City facility to the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. "The motor [was designed to] be fully integrated with the other system motors in preparation for the Pad Abort 1...flight test."
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Abort motor

The Pad Abort Motor Test is seen in this NASA photograph at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
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7 of 24 U.S. Army

Dropping from the plane

This is the beginning of the drop test, in which the Orion CEV's main parachute equipment is dropped from a U.S. Army airplane.
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8 of 24 U.S. Army

Main Parachute test

On October 2, 2009, NASA conducted a demonstration test of the Orion crew exploration vehicle (CEV)'s main parachute test equipment. The demonstration was done at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. "The demonstration is part of a series of tests to support the design and development of the Orion parachute and recovery system, which is derived from the system NASA used to recover the Apollo spacecraft," NASA wrote on its Web site.
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9 of 24 U.S. Army

Successful drop test

In this image, the Orion crew exploration vehicle parachute assembly system drops slowly underneath what are called drogue chutes. The test was conducted on July 27, 2010, at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz.

"The primary test objectives were, [first] to measure the performance of a two drogue parachute cluster with one drogue skipping the second of two reefing stages," NASA said on its Web site, and second, "to measure the performance of a two main parachute cluster with modified suspension line and riser lengths matching the Apollo configuration ratio. The test platform consisted of a pallet and weight tub and was extracted from a C-130 aircraft at 17,500 feet."

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At Dryden

At the Dryden Flight Research Center, crew members take the first Orion full-scale abort flight test crew module to its new home. The photograph was taken on April 1, 2008.
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11 of 24 NASA

Applying the decal

NASA Dryden visual communications manager Steve Lighthill applies a NASA decal to the Orion test module.
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Building the module in New Orleans

According to NASA, Lockheed Martin built the Orion crew module ground test article, seen here in the foreground, at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. "The vehicle will serve as a production pathfinder to validate the flight vehicle production processes and tools. When completed, this first full-sized, flight-like crew module will be tested on the ground in equivalent flight-like environments, including static vibration, acoustics and water landing loads. Results will be used to correlate sizing models for all subsystems on the vehicle."
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Drogue chute testing 2

This is another image of Parachute Assembly System Drogue Chute Testing done by NASA at the Texas A&M Wind Tunnel Facility.
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First test of BTA

This was the first drop test of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle boilerplate test article (BTA), which was conducted July 12, 2011.

"The Orion MPCV is based on the Orion design requirements for traveling beyond low Earth orbit," NASA wrote on its Web site. "Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities."

During this test, the 22,700-pound BTA was traveling at about 24 miles per hour on impact with the water at the Hydro Impact Basin. The idea behind this test is to further "the knowledge and testing of space vehicle landing systems like the MPCV."

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Awaiting equipment installation

Freshly painted, the first Orion full-scale abort test flight crew module sits waiting to have its avionics and other equipment installed.
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Hitting the water

The BTA was traveling about 24 miles per hour when it hit the surface of the water at the Hydro Impact Basin.
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At White Sands

In this April 8, 2010 photograph taken at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the PA-1 launch abort system is prepped on the launch pad for testing.
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Loading the Orion abort test crew module mockup

On March 28, 2008, a group of U.S. Air Force loadmasters pulled the full-scale Orion abort test crew module mockup from a C-17 at Edwards Air Force Base.
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MPCV at dusk

The Orion crew exploration vehicle, seen at dusk on January 30, 2008.
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Heat shield

This is the Orion crew vehicle, seen at the Lockheed Martin vertical test facility in Colorado. According to NASA, "Work on the heat shield and thermal protection backshell of the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle ground test article, or GTA, was completed in preparation for environmental testing...The crew vehicle will undergo rigorous testing to confirm its ability to safely fly astronauts through all the harsh environments of deep space exploration missions."
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21 of 24 NASA

Integration

In this NASA photograph, taken at the Reverberant Acoustics Laboratory at Lockheed Martin's Waterton facility near Denver, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, in the foreground, is being prepared for integration with the crew module in the background. The intention of the integration test was to expose the Orion stack "to a series of acoustic tests of increasing decibels that simulate the sound pressure levels that the vehicle will encounter during launch," according to NASA.
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Paint prep

At the Edwards Air Force Base paint hangar, paint shop technicians get the Orion full-scale flight test crew module for painting.
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23 of 24 NASA

Drogue parachute testing

At the Texas A&M Wind Tunnel Facility, NASA conducted crew exploration vehicle (CEV) parachute assembly system drogue chute testing.
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Crew module with adapter

This is the Orion flight test crew module that was scheduled to be used in the Orion launch abort system Pad Abort 1 flight test, seen with an adapter cone that links the the system's rocket motor to the module.

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