Orion Flight Capsule

NASA’s Orion capsule made a "bull's-eye" landing in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 5 following its maiden test flight to a height of 3,600 miles and two orbits of Earth.

The unmanned spacecraft mission’s duration exceeded four hours from launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and evaluated launch and high-speed re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield.

NASA is aiming to have the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle ferry astronauts to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and ultimately Mars. The two- or four-person capsule-based vehicle being designed for landing in the ocean much like the Apollo capsule that returned from the moon. It was NASA's first launch of a vehicle for space travel since the Space Shuttle, and the first time since Apollo 17 on Dec. 7, 1972, that NASA launched a spacecraft designed for deep space exploration.

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In developing the Orion crew module built by Lockhead Martin, NASA engineers called upon INDYCAR for data to assist in the design of a passenger restraint system to protect the crew from increased acceleration exposures that draw parallels to those experienced in the sport.

Through a Space Act Agreement, INDYCAR provided data from blind incidents dating to the 2003 season, including information from crash data recorders on each race car and ear accelerometers worn by each driver. Both measure G forces on the car/body and provide information relative to angle of impact. Incidence of injury also has been included in spreadsheet reports.

The initial manned evaluation flight is scheduled for 2018, according to NASA. The U.S. Air Force also has applied INDYCAR data toward the creation of helmets, seats and cockpit harnesses.

“A confined seating system in a space capsule is similar to an IndyCar. NASA’s previous space capsules had a reclined seating system, so the G forces were not unlike a rearward impact for an IndyCar,” said Jeff Horton, INDYCAR’s director of engineering. “Data from crash box measures how hard the car hits, so it takes into account any systems the car may or may not use – the rear attenuator, the safer wall, the seat. Also included in data is the angle of impact because it makes a difference when designing the seating system whether you crash backward or forward.

“Accelerometer data can be overlaid so we can see how the safety systems, which are the helmet, the headrest the forward head restraint work.”

Horton and INDYCAR medical consultant Dr. Terry Trammell toured the Johnson Space Center, including a mock-up of the Orion capsule seating articulation, and received a briefing on the seat development in June.