It is a long and hard road preparing any new spacecraft to face the rigors of launching and of returning from space, but slowly the pieces are coming together for NASA's next adventure into space as the agency begins to put the Orion capsule in shape for its first test flight in 2014.
I am a big proponent of NASA and its efforts to get man off of this planet and out there exploring space. Therefore, any news that sees the agency overcoming crippling budget cuts and still put forth a working space program is encouraging.
With the days of the Apollo missions long gone and the space shuttles mothballed, NASA is looking to its Orion spacecraft and Delta IV rockets to propel man into the next phase of exploring space. Part of that process, of course, is making sure that the Orion space capsule (one of the most advanced spacecraft ever designed) will survive the incredible temperatures experienced during re-entry.
As with the Apollo and space shuttles, this survival is accomplished thanks to a heat shield that protects the vehicle during re-entry. In the case of the Orion capsule, that shield will be composed of two parts: A titanium skeleton that is bolted to a carbon fiber skin. It takes almost 3,000 bolts to hold the skeleton to the skin after which the heat shield will be shipped to Textron Defense Systems near Boston—where the final layer of an ablative material, similar to what was used in the Apollo missions, will be added.
Once the completed heat shield is installed onto the Orion capsule next summer it will be ready to begin its actual testing which will involve the Orion traveling more than 3,600 miles above the Earth (~15 times farther than the International Space Station's current orbital position). After which it will turn around and return to Earth at almost 5,000 MP—faster than any current human spacecraft.
via Space Travel