NASA’s Super Guppy is an extraordinary-looking aircraft.
The space agency uses the huge wide-body aircraft to transport components that are too large to fit on a conventional cargo plane.
The Super Guppy was used to move parts of NASA’s massive Saturn V rocket in preparation for the lunar missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and now the plane is taking off to aid the upcoming Artemis lunar missions.
On its last flight, the Super Guppy carried the skin of Orion’s heat shield, the spacecraft that will take humans to the moon on the Artemis missions that are expected to take place before the end of this decade.
The plane landed at Moffett Federal Airfield near San Jose in California earlier this month, with the skin transferred to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where it is awaiting the next stage of production.
This week, the space agency released images (below) of the Super Guppy shortly after it arrived at the airfield, and one of the photos shows the spacecraft component being removed from the massive cargo compartment accessed near the part front of the aircraft.
The original Guppy aircraft, the Pregnant Guppy, was actually a KC-97 Stratotanker converted by the defunct Aero Spacelines company in 1962.
Three years later, Aero Spacelines followed up with the larger and more powerful Super Guppy, which featured a 25-foot (7.6-meter) diameter cargo bay and, for the first time, a hinged tip for a cargo load. more efficient.
The final version of the plane, the Super Guppy Turbine, first took to the skies in 1970.
With NASA’s original Super Guppy rapidly aging, the agency purchased a newer one in 1997 from Airbus, which had built two Super Guppy aircraft after acquiring the manufacturing rights to Aero Spacelines. NASA’s Super Guppy is the only one still flying today.
“Unlike other aircraft, the Super Guppy aircraft has a specially designed hinged nose that opens at a 110-degree angle so cargo can be loaded and unloaded from its belly.” NASA says on its website, adding that the aircraft’s unique shape “also allows it to carry bulky or heavy hardware that might not otherwise fit on a traditional aircraft.” In fact, last year, the aircraft transported an entire Orion spacecraft to the Kennedy Space Center, where it now sits atop NASA’s almighty SLS rocket in preparation for launch.
The agency says that at 16.5 feet (about 5 meters) in diameter, Orion’s heat shield and skin is the largest ever developed for manned spaceflight missions. The shield comprises an underlying titanium skeleton covered by a carbon fiber skin that will protect the spacecraft and its crew from the intense heat generated when the vehicle re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 40,000 km / h. .
This particular shield will be used for the Artemis IV mission, the third crewed trip to the moon.
Orion will undergo its first major test during Artemis I, an unmanned mission scheduled for 2022 that will involve the spacecraft making a flyby of the moon before returning to Earth. The trip will confirm that all your systems are safe and working properly.
Artemis II will see Orion take the same route, albeit this time with astronauts on board, while Artemis III will attempt to bring the first woman of color to the lunar surface.