Assembly of NASA’s first Orion Crew vehicle that could actually launch to space has been accomplished by prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation at the firm’s Waterton space systems facility located near Denver, Colorado, where the spacecraft is slated to begin a severe testing process that will help confirm crew safety.
Orion is NASA’s next generation spacecraft designed to send human crews to low Earth Orbit and beyond to multiple deep space destinations throughout our solar system including the Moon, Mars and Asteroids. Orion was recently recast as the MPCV or Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.
“The first Orion crew module built to spaceflight specifications is complete,” said Linda Singleton, a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin in an interview.
“Orion will soon be integrated with the launch abort system test article prior to undergoing acoustic, vibration and modal testing in Denver,” Singleton told me. “The testing process will last several months.”
Watch this cool and detailed animation of the testing process to be conducted at the Reverberant Acoustic Lab at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility.
The video also shows how the Orion will be integrated and tested with the Launch Abort System (LAS) that would save the lives of the astronauts on board in the event of a spaceflight emergency.
With the Grand Finale of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program now just days away after the launch of shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission, the US faces a gap with no capability to send humans to space and the International Space Station for a time period extending at least several years.
A replacement vehicle for the retiring shuttle – whether its the Orion or from a commercial provider like SpaceX – can’t come soon enough in order to maintain the viability of the International Space Station.
This Orion vehicle also known as the Ground Test Article, or GTA, will now be subjected to several months of rigorous flight like testing that simulates the harsh environments that astronauts would face during voyages to deep space.
Thereafter, the Orion crew module will be transported in early 2012 to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia where it will undergo water landing drop tests next year at the new Hydro Impact Basin facility.
“The NASA and Lockheed Martin teams hope to achieve Orion/MPCV initial crewed operations by 2016”, said Singleton. “We are aiming for an initial unmanned orbital test flight in 2013.”
A Delta IV Heavy booster rocket is the most likely candidate for the 2013 Orion orbital flight, but a final decision has not yet been announced by NASA.
Meanwhile, another Orion crew module that was flown during the Pad Abort 1 test (PA-1) in 2010 is now on public display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The vehicle just arrived after a cross country trek from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California and making several public outreach stops along the way to Florida.
The Orion PA-1 test article is on display until July 4 in the historic Rocket Garden at Kennedy in the shadow of a mighty Saturn 1B and alongside Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Era capsules and rockets. The mockup of the LAS is also still on display at the Kennedy Visitor Complex.