- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia plant is playing a role in NASA’s experimental Orion spacecraft.

Metals used in the inner structure of the Orion crew capsule were produced at Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood in Jackson County, a subsidiary of European-based Constellium Inc. The facility is Jackson County’s biggest employer, with about 1,000 employees.

The Charleston Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1tgKsKl) that the metals used in the capsule’s backbone, window frames and dome plate were made at the facility.

A new lithium-infused aluminum alloy branded “AIRWARE 2050” was made specifically for the project, said Buddy Stemple, CEO of the Ravenswood plant.

Those are alloys that, because of the composition, provide the lightweightedness, the strength and the mechanical characteristics to withstand the stresses of these kinds of operations,” Stemple said. “They’re very application-specific.”

The addition of lithium to the alloy makes the material lighter but maintains the strength needed to withstand the pressures of space travel, Stemple said.

In 2009, the company began shipping the alloys for Orion to Lockheed Martin, which won a $6.4 billion NASA contract in 2006 to build the Orion space capsule. The plant is a major supplier of alloys for airplane manufacturers, including Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier and has produced plates for NASA’s space shuttle fuel tanks since the 1970s.

The Orion spacecraft rocketed into orbit Dec. 5, traveling 3,600 miles into space on an unmanned test flight that proved to be a great success after it parachuted into the Pacific. Engineers have begun the lengthy process of inspecting the vessel and reviewing all the data collected by sensors. NASA plans to use future models to help get astronauts to Mars in coming decades.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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