News & Opinion | July 13, 2018 5:00 am

NASA Testing a Stunt Double of Its Newest Rocket

Identical twin of Orion, NASA's next launch vehicle, to help speed deployment.

Employees of Lockheed Martin look into the rear of the mock up of the Orion spacecraft Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado. (Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Denver Post via Getty Images

Engineers at Lockheed Martin’s Denver-area campus have built an architecturally identical twin of Orion, NASA’s next launch vehicle. The real Orion rocket that will go into space is 2,000 miles away in Florida, but the test twin, which Wired calls PseudoOrion, is held in an 80-foot-tall test chamber. The team in Denver is putting the test spacecraft through it’s paces in order to probe its safety and performance limits and to ensure it won’t crack under pressure. The test team, which includes people who used to be NASA space shuttle techs, puts the PseudoOrion through a series of five brutal tests. It is an expensive way to go about doing things, but building two versions of the same thing is ultimately the best option, NASA maintains.

Dan Qvale, head of the Orion copy’s assembly and testing, told Wired that to run all the tests that are needed, the actual flight vehicle would be tied up for around two years. But with the twin, the team can run tests in parallel with Orion’s development, and can treat the twin worse, including subjecting it to conditions the real spacecraft should never encounter, as a precaution.