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Jan 14 2015

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Orion’s flight: Demo flight, not test flight

First, let’s flash back to a comment I made last month on Linkedin after Orion’s recovery:

I couldn’t agree more with both Daniel’s and Gregory’s posts. Frankly, even in spite of the flawless execution of the Orion flight, I give it a 50/50 shot that this was the one and only flight of the Orion. By the time SLS is ready and Orion is crew-rated, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will be an old pro at satellite and crew launches. NASA touted EFT-1 as a risk-reduction event, but as Gregory said, there was almost no risk since it was a rehash of early Apollo missions. EFT-1 was strictly a PR stunt that had to be done well to ensure the survival of Orion. In *that*, it reduced the risk of program cancellation.

Now let’s look at The preliminary observations and lessons learned of the Orion flight:

  • The ablative covering of the heat shield did not burn off at all during re-entry, indicating that the heat shield could have re-entered at a much higher speed than it did.
  • They only used about a third of the maneuvering fuel (hydrazine) on board. They used about 90 pounds and expected to use 150 pounds.
  • Some of the systems did have hiccups, and they’re still looking that them to determine what went wrong.

I can’t help but note how NASA (especially Bolden) and Lockheed Martin use words like “perfect” and “flawless” when describing the test flight.

To be fair, it would have been catastrophic for NASA if something had gone seriously wrong during the Orion flight. At best, it would have set the program back several years. Therefore, it’s not surprising that NASA didn’t do anything extreme to push the envelope — but we in the test community call that a demo flight, not a test flight. Still, if they find that their schedule is too conservative and that they can combine events in the future to save time and money, then this demo flight will have been productive in more than the PR sense.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/01/14/orions-flight-demo-flight-not-test-flight/

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