By Budd McLaughlin
Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will begin testing critical flight hardware designed to keep astronauts safe during launch.
The hardware, a stage adapter diaphragm, is a barrier between the upper stage of the launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft, slated to launch next September.
The diaphragm, a light-weight composite structure, was designed by a team of engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., in close collaboration with Marshall. It prevents hydrogen gas build-up from the rocket before and during launch.
The component will connect Orion to a Delta IV Heavy rocket during the September test flight and on the first launch of NASA's Space Launch System in 2017.
“The structure we built is a barrier,” Kevin Rivers, Langley’s Orion Launch Abort System project manager, said in a statement. “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.”
The diaphragm will undergo pressurized testing at Marshall before being integrated with the spacecraft's stage adapter - certifying it for flight conditions.
The test launch will send the Orion spacecraft 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface, 15 times farther away than the International Space Station, which is about 250 miles above the Earth. Orion will later return to Earth at a speed of about 20,000 mph, faster than any manned spacecraft.
Marshall manages NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) program, which is America’s next generation rocket that will carry the Orion spacecraft, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments into deep space.