Orion - Exploration Spacecraft

Safely carrying humans to deep space

NASA’s Orion exploration spacecraft will be capable of taking crews to deep space destinations and returning them safely to Earth. Launched on NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, Orion is designed to carry people farther into space for longer periods of time than ever before, withstanding higher levels of radiation and re-entry speeds than any previous human-rated spacecraft.

After a nearly flawless Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014, NASA is preparing for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). This will be the first integrated test of SLS and Orion, during which an uncrewed spacecraft will travel in a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon and then return to Earth over a three week period. A series of crewed missions will begin in the early 2020s as NASA and its industry partners prepare for human missions to the vicinity of the Moon, and eventually to Mars.

OrionLaunch Abort System (LAS) Crew Module (CM) European Service Module (ESM)

Key Features

1,000-Day Mission Capability: Orion will provide maximum radiation protection for its crew, an advanced life support system, and a heat shield that withstands the extreme temperatures of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Full Redundancy: Incorporated into the Orion spacecraft is backup capability for all major avionics and crew systems.

Safe Emergency Abort Capability: Orion has a rocket-powered escape system designed to whisk the crew to safety in the unlikely event of a launch vehicle failure.

Our Role

Orion Main Engine: Aerojet Rocketdyne is helping to refurbish a regeneratively cooled, 6,000 pound-thrust bipropellant orbital maneuvering engine that was designed and built by the company and originally used on NASA’s space shuttle. The repurposed engine, mounted on the spacecraft’s European Service Module (ESM), will provide the primary propulsion for Orion’s major in-space maneuvers.

Auxiliary Engines: Aerojet Rocketdyne produces the Auxiliary Engines used to maintain Orion’s in-space trajectory and position, and provide backup to the main engine. Eight of these 110-pound-thrust bipropellant engines, based on the flight-proven R4D engine family, are mounted on Orion’s ESM.

Launch Abort System Jettison Motor: Orion is outfitted with a Launch Abort System (LAS) that will rapidly separate the crew capsule from the launch vehicle in the unlikely event of a catastrophic event during launch or ascent. Aerojet Rocketdyne builds the jettison motor that provides approximately 40,000 pounds of thrust to separate the LAS from the crew module, enabling the capsule and crew to safely land under parachutes. During a nominal mission, the jettison motor would activate after stage-two ignition to separate the LAS from the spacecraft as the crewmembers continue their journey. This critical task makes it the only motor on the LAS to fire on every mission.

Reaction Control System: Prior to re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the Orion crew module separates from the service module. After this point, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Reaction Control System (RCS) becomes the sole means of controlling the crew module’s orientation during atmospheric reentry and altering its course in preparation for splashdown. Twelve 160-pound-thrust monopropellant thrusters provide this critical function to the spacecraft.

Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessels: After splashdown, Orion’s self-righting flotation system inflates five air bags with helium to maintain the capsule in an upright position, allowing the crew to safely exit the capsule through the hatch. The high-pressure helium is stored in five composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne’s subsidiary ARDÉ.