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Successful test of Orion supported by UDRI

Artist's Concept of Orion SpacecraftFaster than The Flash. Times 20.

Before Orion’s successful launch and return to Earth Dec. 5, researchers in the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Impact Physics group performed a series of tests to see how thermal protection system materials and structures, like those to be used on Orion, would hold up under impact by orbital debris. The group recently received a two-year, $382,000 contract from Lockheed Martin for additional hypervelocity impact testing.

Using a multi-stage light gas gun, researchers fire small aluminum spheres at speeds in excess of 20,000 miles per hour to simulate the speed at which orbital debris travels. The damage to the material and structure targets provides sponsors Lockheed Martin, who built the rocket and capsule, and NASA with critical information about the kind of damage even small debris could inflict on a heat shield or other orbiting structure. By helping sponsors understand what type of damage can occur, they can design structures and systems that will be better able to withstand to the harsh environment of space, said group leader Kevin Poormon (Aerospace Mechanics).

NASA is currently tracking more than 21,000 pieces of space debris about the size of a softball and larger, and have at times maneuvered vehicles and even the International Space Station to avoid a larger object. But the agency is equally concerned about objects too small to be tracked but that can do devastating damage. An object as small as a BB could perforate a structure, Poormon said. “We’re honored and excited to be doing this type of research because it’s all about keeping astronauts safe.”

Dec. 5, 2014

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