NASA's new space capsule has a mind of its own.
- By Michael Klesius
- Air & Space magazine, September 2007
(Page 3 of 5)
On ascent, the screens will operate with a vague similarity to those in conventional aircraft. One might display artificial horizons and headings; another might display speed, and altitude. The remaining two might show other key parameters, such as the rocket’s electrical or life support systems.
Once in orbit, the screens will switch to new readouts. One or more might show rendezvous and docking information, probably with live video, and with the vehicle’s path, range, and rate of change in closing to, say, the space station or a Mars transfer vehicle.
The other screens may display updated data on the ship’s life support system status and fuel supply.
The screens will use graphic symbols (still being developed) whenever those are deemed the most intuitive way to communicate information such as electronic checklists, malfunction procedures, warning indicators, and motion imagery.
“One of the challenges we’ll face is that the amount of info we’ll display needs to be balanced against the amount of real estate we’ll need,” says Dutton. The team started out with three screens but decided to add a fourth.
Other design aspects are also fluid. Dutton suggests that the reaction control system, which controls steering and attitude, might move from numerical data to schematics.
“Say you lost all your lateral jets. If you only have tables of numerical data, sure, the information’s there, but a schematic may let you grasp it more quickly,” says Dutton.
Orion’s plumbing too may go graphic, with visual interpretations of data on fuel, water, and coolant system fluids. Electrical information may also convert from numbers to shapes and colors, with icons visually wired together on the display, including the status of the solar arrays and batteries.
There will be far fewer knobs and switches on the instrument panel, but it is impossible to drive them out of Orion entirely. Sometimes the old ways work best. “Hard switches will still have their place in this cockpit,” says Dutton, “but they’ll have to buy their way in based on solid rationale.”