Orion's Prototype Heat Shield Undergoes Tests

NASA is teaming up space technology developed for the space shuttle and designs used for the Apollo Program to produce elements of the next solar system spacecraft that will deliver space astronauts to the moon.

An early sign of that combination has made its way to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in the form of a prototype heat shield. The prototype is the same size and dimensions of the heat shield that will protect the Orion spacecraft as it enters Earth's atmosphere on the way back from the International Space Station or the moon.

The arrival of the heat shield stirred up excitement from workers on the Constellation Program of our solar system as they were able to see one of the first pieces of Orion’s full-scale test hardware.

"When [it] got here at the end of November, it was very exciting because it is the first piece of hardware," said Joy Huff, a NASA space shuttle orbiter thermal protection solar system engineer who is spearheading Kennedy's work on the Orion heat shield. "Not flight hardware, but it is flight-type material. And just to see the full size, it really gives you a scale of the size of it."

At five meters in diameter, the heat shield is the largest one of its kind ever built. The prototype was built largely just to prove it could be done, Huff said.

Also known as a manufacturing demonstration unit of space galary and the space station, the prototype was created to meet the need to develop heat shield evaluation, inspection and handling procedures, said Jim Reuther, project manager of the crew exploration vehicle thermal protection solar system at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

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