4 Things You Might Not Know About Orion


You may know that the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft is the only crewed spacecraft built to withstand the punishing journey to other planets. But what you might not know is that Orion is the safest spacecraft ever built with layers of backup systems that eliminate the risk of single point failures.

In honor of the first Exploration Flight Test on December 4 – here are four things you may not know about Orion:

1. We built the whole thing virtually before we ever bent metal.


Before Orion was manufactured on the production floor, it was assembled in our Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory – or CHIL in Littleton, Colorado. This enables us to dry run the manufacturing and work out any kinks ahead of time – saving both time and cost.

2. On the way back to Earth, we’re hitting the gas.


When Orion re-enters the atmosphere from deep space, it’ll be travelling about 25,000 miles per hour, or Mach 33. To mirror that velocity during EFT-1, we’ll actually accelerate on our final approach to Earth so we can push Orion’s heat shield and infrastructure to the max. This will push our systems to the limit, so we can verify our top design challenges and keep crews safe on future missions.

3. This is the safest spacecraft ever built.


There are several safety systems built into the Orion spacecraft to protect future astronauts. The Launch Abort System (LAS) has half a million pounds of thrust and accelerates from 0 to 500 mph in just 2 seconds to pull the crew to safety in an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent. It can pull the crew a mile up and a mile away from the launch pad. On return, the capsule will slow to a soft 20 mph ocean landing thanks to a system that features 11 parachutes that deploy in four stages, and each stage is built to withstand a potential failure. When it comes to life support, the closed loop system is “self-healing” and advanced enough that even in an emergency loss of pressure, or contamination, it can safely bring its crew home – regardless of orbital alignment with Earth.

4. One size fits all!


From an anthropomorphic standpoint, Orion is designed to accommodate 99% of the human population. This is a larger range than every other NASA or DoD project past, present, or future. The spacecraft can accommodate astronauts as small as a 4’10” tall female and as tall as a 6’5” male.