The team has been improving the spacecraft's heat shield design and manufacturing process since the vehicle successfully travelled to space for the first time last year.

On future missions, a silver, metallic-based thermal control coating will be bonded to the Orion crew module's back shell tiles, the space agency said in a statement. When it comes to a spacecraft enduring the extremely hot and fast journey from deep space back to Earth, NASA's Orion can withstand the heat.

The engineers are now enhancing the overall system in advance of the spacecraft's next mission - a flight that will put Orion through the harshest set of conditions yet. During Orion's next mission atop the agency's mega Space Launch System (SLS) rocket called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will be in space for more than three weeks and return to Earth under even faster and hotter conditions than during its last flight.

"Orion's thermal protection system is essential to successful future missions. As we move toward building the system for EM-1, we've been able to take advantage of what we learned from building and flying Orion to refine our processes going forward," explained John Kowal, NASA's thermal protection system lead for Orion.

Orion's thermal protection system is one of the most critical parts of the spacecraft and is responsible for protecting it and the future astronauts it will carry home from deep space destinations.

It consists of the spacecraft's main heat shield that faces into the atmosphere on reentry to slow the spaceship down and also the grid of tiles known as the back shell.

In addition, engineers have found ways to reduce the mass of the heat shield's underlying structure, which is composed of a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin.


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