NASA successfully tested the first flight of the Orion space crew capsule on Friday morning – a program that is intended to once again take humans into deep space.
The capsule was launched at 4:05 a.m. Pacific Standard Time atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket powered by RS-68 engines made by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The Chatsworth-based division of Gencorp Inc. is a successor to the company that manufactured engines for the Apollo missions, the last program that sent man beyond Earth’s orbit.
The capsule came down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California after a four and a half hour mission that included two orbits around the Earth to evaluate the capsule’s exposure to heat and radiation and to test avionics, heat shields, parachutes and jettisoning components.
The launch was originally scheduled for Thursday but had been scrapped due to strong winds and stuck propellant valves.
The RS-68 engines used in the three rocket boosters of the Delta IV Heavy are fueled by a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. They each generate 663,000 pounds of thrust producing more than 17 million horsepower.
The engines borrow some technology used by Rocketdyne for the Space Shuttle main engines and the J-2 rocket engines that propelled the third stage of the Saturn V rocket – which directed the Apollo capsule on its trajectory to the moon.
The Orion capsule is NASA’s new entry for manned missions beyond Earth orbit, with the potential to take astronauts to Mars. The first manned flight for Orion is scheduled for 2021.
Rocketdyne was founded by North American Aviation in 1955 and headquartered in Canoga Park. It later was owned by a succession of companies before it was purchased by GenCorp. in Sacramento in 2013, which created the Aerojet Rocketdyne unit. The Valley offices were consolidated in Chatsworth last year.