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Published:September 16th, 2006 04:29 EST

NASA Awards Thermal Protection Contract for Orion Spacecraft

By SOP newswire

NASA has selected The Boeing Company, Huntington Beach, Calif., to support the design and development of a lunar direct return-capable heat shield for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The hybrid firm fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract has a 16-month period of performance, with a maximum value of approximately $14 million, including all priced options.

The heat shield will protect the spacecraft and crew during atmospheric reentry following missions to the moon or the International Space Station. The heat shield attached at the base of the spacecraft will reject the majority of the heat generated during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Returning from missions to the station, Orion will re-enter at speeds similar to those experienced by the space shuttle - 16,700 miles an hour. Returning from the moon, Orion will reenter the atmosphere at speeds of about 25,000 miles an hour and experience heating about five times as extreme as missions returning from the station.

NASA's Constellation Program is developing Orion as NASA's primary vehicle for future human space exploration. Orion will carry astronauts to the station by 2014, with a goal of landing astronauts on the moon no later than 2020.

The present Phase II contract with Boeing is a continuation of an earlier Phase I NASA effort that evaluated phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA), as well as four other candidate materials using extensive testing and analysis. Boeing has been selected to provide PICA, a proprietary material manufactured by its subcontractor, Fiber Materials Inc. of Biddeford, Maine, for continued testing and evaluation.

Boeing's deliverables for this contract include:

- Samples of thermal protection system materials for thermal, structural and environmental testing and analysis
- A preliminary heat shield design and detailed heat shield implementation plan using PICA
- A full-scale 16.5-foot (5-meter) heat shield manufacturing demonstration unit
- Comprehensive trade studies targeted toward increasing the technology readiness of a PICA-based heat shield.
- A material properties database and thermal response model for PICA

NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is the agency's lead center for thermal protection systems and will use its thermal, structural and environmental facilities to conduct extensive testing and evaluation of the PICA deliverables. Ames will assess the material performance and its risks and suitability for use as the Orion heat shield. NASA will work with Boeing to provide key validation and verification functions, as well as contributing toward the development and delivery of the overall preliminary heat shield design.

For more information about the heat shield, visit the Orion section of the NASA portal: