Webster Firm Works on Orion

After the space shuttle fleet is retired astronauts will be carried into space aboard the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Development of Orion is taking place at 21 sites across the country. As Rod Rice reports, one of those locations is in Webster.
It's taking place at the Lockheed Martin Exploration Development Laboratory. It's one of three EDL's funded by Lockheed, United Space Alliance and Honeywell.

"Well, what we do in this lab is mitigate risks on the crew exploration vehicle avionics and software, flight software."

Olivia Fuentes is EDL Section Manager. She says even before Orion's avionics are completely developed there are flight test programs that the EDL in Webster is working on.

"We're testing the launch abort system which is to make sure that we have a safe way of getting the astronauts away from the pad in case there's an emergency on the pad."

image of Ares RocketThis abort system would have to lift Orion off the Ares Rocket, put it in the proper attitude, move it away from the launch pad and deploy the parachutes that will allow it to safely land on land or in the ocean. Complicated stuff, but only the very beginning. Each and every part of the launch abort system is tested in the lab and then the parts and put into systems that are tested and then all the possible things that could go wrong are tested.

"One of the biggest time consuming things that we do on a program is processes we have to go through, the procedures. There's hundreds and hundreds of procedures that have to be written for all of this hardware."

The goal is to deliver software that is error free and ready for NASA testing.

Being so close to the Johnson Space Center the Lockheed EDL also works with astronauts. Fuentes says it's called Human in the Loop; astronauts are put in mock ups to make sure the systems are human friendly.

"For example eye view points, making sure they are at the correct distance from the displays to the astronauts. Making sure the reach zones are correct for the different percentile of folks that we plan to use."

Lockheed's Linda Singleton you may not have heard a lot about Orion but a lot is happening.

"Now we're seeing the hardware delivered, White Sands has the launch pad gantry prepared for this pad abort test that will be coming up later this year. New lightening towers have been installed at pad 39-B down at Kennedy Space Center. Dryden is preparing the crew module that will be shipped out to White Sands for this flight test, so there's hardware being delivered, we're having test flights of motors, this space craft is well underway and we'll be flying very soon."

The timeline is for Orion to be carrying astronauts into space by 20-15 at the latest.

All images courtesy of NASA.
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Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...