In early December, ministers of the various nations composing the European Space Agency decided to meet. Amongst a myriad of issues they have to discuss, a prominent one is the future of their Mars rover. The ExoMars rover has been long-discussed and has encountered its fair share of issues-nearly being abandoned on several occasions. One issue being the high cost, in addition to the inconsistency of the production/testing schedule. The purpose of the rover is to assist human spaceflight by sampling the soil on Mars in search for life.
The ExoMars now needs an additional $430 million if it is expected to launch on schedule. Following a technical review, if given the funds, the ExoMars will remain on schedule. The director of the ESA made it explicitly clear that member states need to either provide full financial support or none at all in order to make a firm decision, instead of providing minimal funds that do not benefit it.
Ultimately, if ESA chooses to provide funding, this would spark new interest in space travel. Perhaps new opportunities will arise for European astronauts to link up with the ISS and will allow for the chance for ESA to create a service module for the Orion crew ship.
In mid-October, NASA released an update regarding the Orion spacecraft. Orion underwent a series of tests ensuring it could withstand the intense vibrations it will experience when it is launched and travels to space atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. One of the tests involved ‘shaking’ it on the world’s most powerful vibration table; the table is 22-feet wide and 55,000-pounds. These tests were conducted by engineers at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio.
Throughout the summer, engineers conducted a total of 98 vibration tests on Orion. As NASA mentioned, despite that they designed “Orion and its service module to endure launch and ascent vibrations as Orion travels into space,” it is critical to test on the ground to “verify those designs before the mission.”
According to Jerry Carek, the facility manager at the Sandusky station, “We started at about 20 percent of the maximum test level and gradually worked our way up to 100 percent with vertical movement. Then we did the same thing with lateral movement.”
The vibration tests were in coordination with a series of tests Orion will have to endure before launching on its first journey atop the SLS rocket, in which it will venture tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon, as part of the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The next stop for Orion is “the assembly high bay area, where engineers will fire pyrotechnics to simulate the shocks the service module will experience as Orion separates from the SLS rocket.”
EM-1 is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in late 2018.
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