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This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

20,000 mph to 20 mph in 10 minutes: NASA video of Orion's scorching return

A new NASA video shows an astronaut's-eye view of Orion's reentry.

The camera is looking up and back, slightly off-center, to the right of the plasma tunnel created by Orion's high-speed passage through the upper atmosphere. You can see shock waves form in the tunnel, and grow in size as the atmosphere thickens.

As the heating intensifies, the plasma color runs up the spectrum; at peak heating (4000f/2200c), the plasma is glowing violet.

The ablative heat shield then begins to lose mass, letting its outer layers melt off to carry away some of the heat. As the heat shield material enters the slipstream, Orion's contrail forms a burning orange.

After about 2 minutes, the upper atmosphere is thick enough that Orion can be a lifting body as well as a ballistic object. You can see occasional puffs of gas dissipating as the thrusters fire to change Orion's orientation to start steering it to the target area.

Then comes the rollover and long fall: Smooth at first, but bumpier as the air thickens. You'll see the thrusters start to work full time.

Finally, the eight chutes deploy in sequence, and Orion splashes down.

Looks like a helluva ride.


Props: @charlie3