Transporting a large space capsule around Earth can be a daunting process, but NASA has its own various equipment for such jobs — one of which is a very big plane with a very big belly. Known as the “Super Guppy,” NASA’s cavernous plane is capable of carrying large loads from point A to point B, and the aircraft just transported the space agency’s next-generation passenger spacecraft to Ohio for a round of testing.
The Super Guppy’s precious cargo was NASA’s Orion spacecraft, a new crew capsule that’s designed to take future astronauts into deep space and eventually to the vicinity of the Moon. Orion is gearing up for its first flight on top of NASA’s future monster rocket, the Space Launch System — a mission, without a crew, that’s supposed to take place in the early 2020s. The flight will send Orion around the Moon on a three-week trip before the capsule heads back to Earth.
Engineers are preparing Orion for the mission, known as Artemis 1, by putting the capsule through a series of tests to see if it’s ready to take on space. Over the next two months at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, Orion will be subjected to extreme temperatures in the largest vacuum chamber in the world. The vehicle will experience temperatures from -250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate the wide range of environments it will experience off of Earth. Orion’s electronics systems will also be tested to make sure they all function as they should at the same time.
Once all of this is done, the Super Guppy will take Orion back to Florida where it will be mounted on top of its future ride, the SLS. However, the SLS is still in development for its debut flight, and it’s unclear exactly when it’ll be ready to launch. A recent government audit suggested it wouldn’t fly until 2021 at the earliest, and one NASA official also indicated that was likely. But if all goes well with testing, at least Orion will be ready once the rocket is finally finished.