Earlier this month, Orbital Sciences and Alliant Techsystems officially confirmed a merger into a consolidated aerospace and defense company, newly renamed Orbital ATK. The combination of Orbital Sciences (which specialized in satellite technology) and Alliant Techsystems
(which specialized in rocket and missile propulsion) will increase the entity’s competitiveness in government defense contracts requiring integrated, comprehensive systems.
Scheduled for March 2015, NASA has enlisted Orbital ATK in testing the booster avionics system (including hardware, software, and ground systems) of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The five-stage electronics system, which is composed of millions of components, is crucial for the initial ignition and guidance of the SLS. The avionics system was developed with input from NASA, Orbital ATK, and L-3 Cincinnati Electronics. Adequately testing an avionics system for human-rated space vehicles involves reviewing millions of possible failure scenarios in two-minute flight simulations. Thus far, the testing process has taken approximately three years.
For launch, the SLS will require two boosters (sized at 177 foot length and 12 foot diameter) and four RS-25 engines (manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne and first used on the NASA Space Shuttle in 1981) to carry it into orbit. The first flight test of the SLS, Exploration Mission 1, will carry a 77-ton lift capacity and an unmanned Orion spacecraft beyond low-earth orbit. Exploration Mission 2 will bring four astronauts the furthest into space in the history of space travel. Eventually, NASA hopes for the SLS to carry 142 tons for missions much deeper into space, including to Mars. With design completed in 2013, the SLS will be the agency’s first project dedicated to exploration since the mission to the moon on the Saturn V rocket.
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