“Space Factory of the Future” Preparing for Orion Spacecraft for Flight


Lockheed Martin has been working overtime to get the Orion spacecraft ready for its first mission, which officials say could be as early as 2013, depending on Congress’ final decision for NASA’s future and budget. Tools and procedures are being checked out to see that they work as advertised for both the spacecraft as well as assembly procedures and manufacturing for building future capsules.

The Orion spacecraft will be assembled and integrated on site in the Operations & Checkout (O & C) building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. By doing this, both time and money can be saved as it will cut down on transportation costs and logistical issues.

“The unique benefit of this complete on-site operation is that we will build the spacecraft and then move it directly onto the launch vehicle at KSC, which saves the government transportation costs associated with tests and checkout prior to launch,” said Lockheed Martin Orion Deputy Program Manager for production operations Richard Harris. “This capability also facilitates the KSC workforce transition efforts by providing new job opportunities for those employees completing their shuttle program assignments.”

The current plan calls for Orion to serve to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and perhaps an eventual mission beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO), but Orion’s future rests with Congress’ upcoming decision on NASA’s future budget. The House Science and Technology Committee announced Thursday a compromise between the House and Senate versions of NASA’s budget, but it is unclear when a final vote may take place.

In the meantime, the O & C building has been transformed in the past couple years into what is being called “the space factory of the future.” This was accomplished by the combined effort of both Lockheed Martin as well as Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development organization. The work was done to create a state-of-the-art facility for spacecraft production and innovation.

NASA's Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building has recently been refurbished to accomocate the Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA

Changes made to the O&C include 90,000 square feet of air-bearing floor space, paperless work stations, a portable clean room system, and specialized lifting/lowering/ support tools designed by United Space Alliance (USA). Specially designed air-bearing pallets will allow a small crew to maneuver hardware across the floor. The building renovation also incorporates energy-saving electrical systems which will help to further lower costs.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the Orion Project and heads the team that includes numerous subcontractors and small businesses working at facilities in 28 states. Additionally, the program works with more than 500 small businesses across the U.S. to provide the needed supplies that make the Orion Project a reality.

Source: Lockheed Martin

21 Replies to ““Space Factory of the Future” Preparing for Orion Spacecraft for Flight”

  1. Yes Lawrence, the president tried to scrap everything. He then tried to explain his position at KSC and allowed for a stripped-down version of Orion to be built. That also was met with opposition so he released another explanation and then finally the Senate and House worked on compromise bills. Now it looks like Orion and much of Constellation might actually be salvaged. Moreover, the unproven commercial space groups will still be given a shot in these new bills (althoough to varying degrees in each).

    So the president explained, explained again and again – and basically the House and the Senate said – no thanks.

  2. I must have missed something, but I thought this program had been scrapped. I thought the whole Constellation project was killed.


  3. Augustine must feel so grateful for the nice reception by the administration and the botch by the S&C.

    So basically we will have a 4 man @ 10 Mg craft that can stay out 210 days doing ISS service at a base cost of 15 GUSD and 1 GUSD/launch, instead of a 7 man @ 4 Mg craft that can stay out 2 w (ISS) to 700 days (NEO) at a base cost of ~ 0.5 GUSD and ~ 0.1 GUSD/launch (unmanned). [Wikipedia, estimated CEV development cost vs Dragon cost.]

    I’m amazed at the willingness of US citizens to throw away expertise and pay for political pork.

  4. I was unaware of these developments. To be honest the part which I was saddened to see go was the Ares large rocket. Some serious instruments and probes could be launched with that. If that part get revised I could see some merit in this. The rest of this I am not that excited about. In general I think the whole idea of packing human in cans that get sent into space is questionable. As Larsson says. this looks a bit like pork.


  5. I’m beginning to like the fact that the Orion capsule can be launched on any of several rockets including Space-X’s Falcon 9, the Atlas heavy and the Delta heavy, which I see as making it a more versatile ship. I did NOT like the solid rocket originally planned as its dedicated booster… nasty to manufacture the perchlorate based fuel and NASTY for the upper atmosphere.

    The Ares Heavy launch booster had a shuttle based liquid fueled central core but unfortunately used the same old solid rocket strap-on technology. What I’d like to see… would be the use of a liquid fueled central core initially accelerated on a mag. lev. track powered by geothermal electric power, say on one of the Hawaiian Islands? But then again.. .I don’t think the Hawaiians would like much of that?

  6. UT needs journalists not lobbyists, so how about some completeness and balance instead of just towing the corporate line?
    Why refer to a launcher without naming one, the associated program costs or even where this is supposed to fit into the ISS servicing schedule or other scheduled purpose? Without the detailed purpose, the Orion story amounts to putting the cart before the pig.
    This Lockheed-Martin sales spiel also talks about saving dollars here and there, so why it is left to the readership (thanks Torbjorn Larsson OM) to determine Orion’s overall financial performance?
    It’s also imprecise to state that ?Orion’s future rests with Congress’ upcoming decision on NASA’s future budget?. Firstly, it may well be the case that neither S. 3729 nor the newly revised H.R. 5781 Space bill or the gap between them matters if the vote isn’t held before the dust settles on the mid-term elections and maybe not even then. A change in the control of either house potentially empowers members urging a spending freeze next year which could reset the NASA clock. Secondly, according to the separation of powers, NASA is an executive branch agency reporting to the President’s office which may exercise a power of veto if it finds any parts of a space bill too objectionable, hence another possible reset, in which case LC’s initial take could turn out to be right after all.
    Former UT writer and previous sales rep for the Lockheed-Martin narrative, Dr Ken Kremer, has improved his act enormously by offering original and detailed content on the commercially feasible Dragon project which is no less ?unproven? than Orion and at least has a test flight scheduled before the end of this year.
    Will you also be covering this test flight for UT readers Mr Rhian?

  7. This looks a bit like the adage about how programs can never die. The change in Congress next year could alter this entirely. The GOP “Pledge to America,” a vapid screed of abysmal quality, promises to cut all sorts of spending, but to increase spending on missile defense. Yep, as if any of that nonsense really works. Where NASA sits with regards to this is not stated. It might get its boost simply because it was a Bush proposal.

    All of this does suffer from a big problem with the whole manned space program. It is based on the idea that putting men in space, men on the moon, permanent manned presence in orbit, lunar base and so forth, represents progress. What progress? It tends to boil down to having Americans up there with the flag. We did indeed pass that point not long after Nixon made a phone call to Tranquility base. The utility factor has to be clearly worked out: There must be a clear need for astronauts in space, where they perform real tasks that have a scientific or technological purpose. This is a point which is never very clear.

    I am not against all of this, as is Robert Parks of the APS “What’s New?” Yet he does have a point. Further, at least if the Ares launcher could be resurrected here, we might at least get a decent large lifter out of the deal.


  8. I liked the idea of the Heavy launch booster also, any company that manages to come up with a commercial Heavy launch booster will make lots of money.

  9. “…The GOP “Pledge to America,” a vapid screed of abysmal quality…” You got THAT right and WELL said!

    No progress? Finding vast quantities of water ice on the Moon represents a total ‘reset’ in the whole concept of going back to Luna. Suddenly there’s a VERY pertinent reason to return to the Moon, which now appears to offer a perfect ‘stepping stone’ to the rest of the solar system! Think fuel and oxygen and titanium and He3… think RESOURCE!

    The argument that we ‘can’t afford to’ is stupid.. its more like we can’t afford NOT TO do it! The stymied economic conundrum we find ourselves in is total BS held fast by those entrenched fossil fuel advocates who wish to maintain their ‘status quo’ and profit margins! I am not advocating ‘knee capping’ oil company executives, instead would like to educate them about the potential profit(s) available by expanding humanity’s reach to the rest of the solar system!

    NO FEAR! Lets be clear about this. As far as we know… the rest of the solar system belongs to us and is our eventual evolutionary heritage! The stars await.. and I can’t wait to GO!

  10. Aqua, It was my understanding that He3 harvesting from the moon may not be as economical as extracting the energy from our oceans. Perhaps someone on here with more knowledge of fusion power generation can comment on this.

    I agree with all of you guys (and or girls?) that the Orion capsule looks more and more like the pork project that could not die. If a heavy booster comes out of this program then fine. Otherwise…humm…

    Yes, that Republican Pledge shows that the GOP has only entrenched itself ideologically rather than creating a plan to fix problems. (Omg tax cuts?!!? MORE defense spending?!??)

  11. If there is a commercial use for all of this it is with solar power satellites. That is the only conceivable step in the commercialization of space. Maybe thin film, dye or graphene panels of incredible lightness could be deployed to generate solar power that is beamed down, and done economically. This is the next possible baby step into what might be called space industry.

    As for the moon, the most I can seen are intermittent astronaut visits meant to deploy, facilitate or maintain instrumentation there beyond robotic capabilities.


  12. I’ll add the current thriving space tourism market to the commercial use of manned crafts & stations. If it can become cheap enough to become the likely necessary (more independently sustainable) mass market is anyone’s guess. The cheaper sub-orbital market seems to be able to achieve that when it takes off in any case.

    It was my understanding that He3 harvesting from the moon may not be as economical as extracting the energy from our oceans.

    As I understand it the whole idea with He3 is that it can be a near neutron free fusion energy source, so that radioactivity becomes less of an issue.

    Today you have neutron release, and you _want_ neutrons as the bulk of them is supposed to make the necessary fuel supply of tritium from lithium fission. In fact, you will try to breed more low-energy “transmuting” neutrons in order to break even on fuel!

    It is AFAIU the (undeveloped) key technology, since no one knows if you can produce enough neutrons and get it to the lithium to sustain the technology. When ITER has shown technological energy closure (gets more energy out than put into the equipment), the program calls for research of reactor technologies such as a neutron & tritium breeding mantle.

    But if you break free from that with He3 you still have technological and economical problems.

    The confinement requirement (pressure*temperature) is, I think, two order of magnitudes higher, another technological unknown (see the fig comparing reactions).

    And the energy yield (fusion rate) is lower than some of the deuterium-tritium reaction phase space (same fig), which you could explore with similar technology.

    So my guess is that D-T fusion is the technology for the first 2-3 generations of technology, if it becomes feasible at all. That is a century or so into the future, at which time speculation is futile.

  13. I should also add that as long as we retain fission reactors, tritium production can’t be all that of a problem, though I dunno if they can produce enough. Eventually any dependence would be a problem of course, as fission fuel is a more finite resource.

  14. I think we need to get the solar-sat up before we think about HE_3 from the moon. Further, the idea of space tourism somehow leaves me with a sense that this is in line with the very wealthy getting ever more wealthy.


  15. Thanks for the explanation Torbjorn Larsson OM.

    PS: Sorry about the confusion over your name. OM does have a voodoo new-Age Astrologer vibe. Is there a short form that we can use that would be more to your liking?

  16. TerryG – I covered the first F9 launch and yes I should be at this one as well. I’m sorry that you think a dummy payload flight means that Dragon earned a manned rating.

    Dr. Kremer is a good friend and a good writer, however claiming bias just because I won’t trumpet SpaceX in the same article – is not a sign of bias – it IS a sign that this article was about – Orion.

    Before you call me bias I would recommend you read my articles on the first F9 launch – you will see that both are pretty much the same. You can find them on Examiner.com under the Cape Canaveral Examiner.

    I do not appreciate you calling me a lobbyist – especially when you’re trying to push Dragon in the same article. You are clearly biased toward SpaceX and lash out to anyone that covers anything else. They have a name for those that label someone something that they themselves are guilty of…

  17. Uncle Fred, no worries, and indeed on the om mani et cetera. No really good shortform, cut and paste Torbjorn perhaps suffice? (I’m swedish, so we are quite informal.)

  18. No one is saying that the Dragon is manned rated. But it can be in 2-3 years, at the same time as Orion, while being highly competitive.

  19. Torbjorn – that wasn’t the point I was making. What I was saying was that Terry G was very disrespectful of me and this article. This article covers the O&C buildings rennovations. For some reason he thought I should include information regarding Dragon – even though the topic had nothing to do with SpaceX’s spacecraft.

    I rarely comment here as I write for UT, however, given the hypocritical nature of his post – I was trying to address his obviously biased comments.

    I’m neither a NewSpacer nor a OldSpacer – but rather a NowSpacer which views that the two camps should be merged for a more balanced approach to spaceflight. Being called names merely highlights how ignorant TerryG is of my point of view.

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