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The Orion spacecraft is no smarter than your phone

Sharon Gaudin | Dec. 8, 2014
Running 12-year-old processors, next-gen spaceship’s tech is built for reliability, not to be state-of-the-art.

A lot of the technology on Orion came from either the airline industry or the U.S. military. For instance, the spacecraft's beacons and some of its antennas are based on technology that was first developed for the military.

Orion is trying out a new technology, too.

Lemke explained that while basic data transfers, like images being sent from a camera to onboard storage, will be handled by regular gigabit Ethernet, Orion will be the first spacecraft to be outfitted with Time-Triggered Ethernet or TTEthernet for critical data transfers.

With basic Ethernet, data packets are delivered with no guarantee that they'll arrive at a certain time. But when onboard data communications are needed to fire Orion's engines at an exact moment or to navigate the spacecraft, data needs to be delivered very precisely.

"The Time-Triggered Ethernet gives you a time-based guaranteed delivery," said Lemke. "It lets us use Ethernet for controlling the entire spacecraft -- every command the computer sends, all the data from the sensors that goes to the flight computers."

Orion has one basic Ethernet cable for basic communications, but all critical data will travel across three different Ethernet lines.

"Orion is not incredibly high tech, but compared to what else is flying in space, it's leading edge," said Lemke. "It's much more capable than the space station or more capable than what the shuttles were. It's state-of-the-art compared to that ,but it's not state-of-the-art compared to what you can get at Best Buy.

"But what you get at Best Buy doesn't need to withstand the extreme vibrations of launch, the vacuum of space with wide temperature swings and then come back to Earth with lots of pyrotechnics and thousands and thousands of Gs of shock and then land in the water and potentially be submerged -- and still operate."


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