When the Orion vehicle – NASA’s next manned spacecraft – went into orbit for two trips around Earth on December 5th, 2014, it had stowaways on board. Among these mementos from organizations around the world was a flag bearing the iconic block M, its inclusion on the test flight championed by Michigan Aero alum and Orion systems engineer Corey Brooker (BSE ’94, MSE ’95).
That flag is returning to campus to be given pride of place in the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud building, home to the department of aerospace engineering. At the dedication and unveiling ceremony March 13th, 2015, Brooker will give a talk about Orion and its mission, the first experimental test flight and what it means to have Michigan engineers on the project. The talk will be followed by a Q&A.
“Orion is designed to go to deep space, to points beyond the moon. It may visit asteroids and eventually go to Mars,” said Brooker. And it will carry up to four astronauts.
Brooker shares the dream of many Michigan Aero students, past and present: to participate in human spaceflight. Working at Lockheed Martin on the Orion vehicle is his ticket. He is joined by more than 75 other Michigan alumni who contributed to the project through Lockheed Martin, NASA, the United Launch Alliance and subcontracting firms.
“Our alumni run the gamut from design to analysis to building the spacecraft,” said Brooker. Some of the U-M alums were in executive leadership, such as Bruce Tanner, currently chief financial officer for Lockheed Martin. The variety of contributions highlights Michigan’s famous strength across many fields.
To celebrate Michigan Aero’s 100th anniversary, he wanted to give something back to the university. The flag is intended to acknowledge U-M’s role in this mission and help inspire the next generation of engineers who dream of worlds beyond Earth.
This first Orion flight lasted just under four and half hours, testing 86 objectives including the separation of the fairings and the Launch Abort System from the vehicle, the electronics and autonomous systems, heat shields, parachutes, water landing and coordination with the Navy to retrieve the vehicle from the Pacific ocean.
While each of these subsystems posed their own challenges, the biggest difficulty that the Orion project overcame was surviving the transition from the Bush administration’s moon base plan to the Obama administration’s Mars ambitions, said Brooker. The Constellation project, of which Orion was a part, was cancelled in 2010, but Congress continued funding Orion.
This left the vehicle without a ride to space until 2018, when the new Space Launch System is scheduled for completion. To get a test flight in earlier, the Orion project purchased a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket to send the vehicle up.
This version of the Orion vehicle is strictly for unmanned testing. Data from this mission will help engineers to design a lighter crewed model. The next Orion mission will orbit the moon, planned for 2018. Although it is currently slated as an unmanned exploration, Orion program management and engineers are looking at how they could produce a crewed vehicle by then.