Launch Abort System Installed on NASA’s Pathfinding Orion capsule for First Flight in 2 Months

The emergency launch abort system (LAS) has been installed on NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule to prepare for its first launch – now just under two months away.

Technicians and engineers working inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida joined the LAS to the top of the Orion EFT-1 crew module on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

Attaching the LAS is one of the final component assembly steps leading up to the inaugural uncrewed liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in December.

The maiden blastoff of Orion on the EFT-1 mission is slated for December 4, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop the triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy booster.

The launch abort system is lowered by crane for installation on the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Flight Test-1 inside the Launch Abort System Facility, or LASF, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston
The launch abort system is lowered by crane for installation on the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Flight Test-1 inside the Launch Abort System Facility, or LASF, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.

Indeed last week and this past month has been an extremely busy time for Orion’s launch preparations. And I’ve been present at KSC reporting first hand on many Orion processing events over the past few years.

Assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule and stacking atop the service module was completed at KSC in September. I witnessed the rollout of the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack on Sept. 11, 2014 on a 36 wheeled transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building and transport to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) for fueling. Read my Orion move story – here.

Running in parallel to processing of the Orion spacecraft is the processing of the triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. The Delta rocket assembly was completed by late September and detailed from my visit to the ULA Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF)- here.

The Delta rocket was moved to its Cape Canaveral launch pad overnight Sept 30 and hoisted at the pad on Oct. 1. Read my story – here.

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” says former shuttle commander and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Service module at bottom.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LAS stands at the very top of the Orion launch stack, bolted above the crew module, and it plays a critically important role to ensure crew safety.

In case of an emergency situation, the LAS is designed to ignite within milliseconds to rapidly propel the astronauts inside the crew module away from the rocket and save the astronauts lives. The quartet of LAS abort motors would generate some 500,000 pounds of thrust to pull the capsule away from the rocket.

For the EFT-1 mission, the LAS will be mostly inactive since no crew is aboard.

Thus the abort motors are inert and not filled with solid fuel propellant. However the jettison motors will be active in order to pull the LAS and Orion’s nose fairing away from the spacecraft just before Orion goes into orbit.

Launch Abort System (LAS) for  Orion EFT-1  on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion EFT-1 on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LAS is one of the five primary components of the flight test vehicle for the EFT-1 mission and will be active on future Orion flights.

The Orion stack is scheduled to remain inside the LASF until mid-November. At that time when the Delta IV Heavy rocket is ready for integration with the spacecraft, Orion will be transported to pad 37 and hoisted atop the rocket.

The Delta IV Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and is the only rocket sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first stage generates some 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot during the boosters unveiling earlier this year at the Cape. “The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA. We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what’s expected by [astronauts] returning from Mars.”

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module enters the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module enters the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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Learn more about Orion, Space Taxis and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 14: “What’s the Future of America’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis” & “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 7:30 PM

Oct 23/24: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

ULA Delta IV Heavy Rocket Rolled to Cape Launch Pad and Raised for Orion’s First Flight

The march towards first launch of NASA’s next generation Orion crew vehicle is accelerating rapidly.

The world’s most powerful rocket – the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy – was moved to its Cape Canaveral launch pad overnight and raised at the pad today, Oct. 1, thereby setting in motion the final steps to prepare for blastoff of NASA’s new Orion capsule on its first test flight in just over two months.

All the pieces are ready and now it’s just a matter of attaching all those components together for the inaugural uncrewed liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on its maiden mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December.

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” said Kennedy Director Bob Cabana, in a NASA statement.

Orion is almost complete and the rocket that will send it into space is on the launch pad. We’re 64 days away from taking the next step in deep space exploration.”

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy topped by the Orion EFT-1 capsule is slated to blastoff on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket  launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

After a nearly two day delay due to drenching rain storms, the Delta IV Heavy integrated first and second stages were transported horizontally overnight Wednesday starting around 10 p.m. from the processing hanger inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to the nearby launch complex and servicing gantry at Pad 37.

Early this morning, the rocket was hoisted up into its launch configuration. Several of my space photo-journalist colleagues were on hand. See their photos herein.

From now until launch technicians will conduct the final processing, testing and checkout of the Delta IV Heavy booster. They will also carry out “a high fidelity rehearsal to include fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with fuel and oxidizer,” according to ULA.

“This is a tremendous milestone and gets us one step closer to our launch later this year,” said Tony Taliancich, ULA’s director of East Coast Launch Operations, in a ULA statement.

“The team has worked extremely hard to ensure this vehicle is processed with the utmost attention to detail and focus on mission success.”

“The Delta IV Heavy is the world’s most powerful launch vehicle flying today, and we are excited to be supporting our customer for this critical flight test to collect data and reduce overall mission risks and costs for the program,” said Taliancich.

ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space

NASA’s Orion Program manager Mark Geyer told me in a recent interview that the Orion spacecraft, built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, will be transported to the pad around November 10 or 11. Then the Orion will be hoisted and attached to the top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at the base of its service module.

The Delta IV Heavy first stage is comprised of a trio of three Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

The Delta IV Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and is the only vehicle that is sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August.

Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News
Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

I recently visited the HIF during a media tour after the three CBCs had been joined together as well as earlier this year after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville. See my photos herein.

I was also on hand at KSC when the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack was rolled out on Sept. 11, 2014, on a 36 wheeled transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

It was moved about 1 mile to the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story – here.

Fueling of Orion was completed over the weekend and it has now been moved to the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) for the installation of its last component – the Launch Abort System (LAS).

Orion’s next stop is SLC-37.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

NASA is simultaneously developing a monster heavy lift rocket known as the Space Launch System or SLS, that will eventually launch Orion on its deep space missions.

The maiden SLS/Orion launch on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) unmanned test flight is now scheduled for no later than November 2018 – read my story here.

SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built and the assembly of its core stage has begun at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Read my story – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B this morning. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Heat Protecting Back Shell Tiles Installed on NASA’s Orion EFT-1 Spacecraft Set for Dec. 2014 Launch

Fabrication of the pathfinding version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule slated for its inaugural unmanned test flight in December is entering its final stages at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site in Florida.

Engineers and technicians have completed the installation of Orion’s back shell panels which will protect the spacecraft and future astronauts from the searing heat of reentry and scorching temperatures exceeding 3,150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Orion is scheduled to launch on its maiden uncrewed mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) test flight in December 2014 atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

The cone-shaped back shell actually has a rather familiar look since its comprised of 970 black thermal protection tiles – the same tiles which protected the belly of the space shuttles during three decades and 135 missions of returning from space.

However, Orion’s back shell tiles will experience temperatures far in excess of those from the shuttle era. Whereas the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, Orion will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at some 20,000 miles per hour on this first flight test.

The faster a spacecraft travels through Earth’s atmosphere, the more heat it generates. So even though the hottest the space shuttle tiles got was about 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, the Orion back shell could get up to 3,150 degrees, despite being in a cooler area of the vehicle.

Engineers have also rigged Orion to conduct a special in flight test to see just how vulnerable the vehicle is to the onslaught of micrometeoroid orbital debris.

Two one-inch-wide holes have been drilled into tiles on Orion’s back shell to simulate micrometeoroid orbital debris damage.  Sensors on the vehicle will record how high temperatures climb inside the hole during Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere following its first flight in December.  Credit:  NASA
Two one-inch-wide holes have been drilled into tiles on Orion’s back shell to simulate micrometeoroid orbital debris damage. Sensors on the vehicle will record how high temperatures climb inside the hole during Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere following its first flight in December. Credit: NASA

Even tiny particles can cause immense and potentially fatal damage at high speed by punching a hole through the back shell tiles and possibly exposing the spacecrafts structure to temperatures high than normal.

“Below the tiles, the vehicle’s structure doesn’t often get hotter than about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but if debris breeched the tile, the heat surrounding the vehicle during reentry could creep into the hole it created, possibly damaging the vehicle,” says NASA.

The team has run done numerous modeling studies on the effect of micrometeoroid hits. Now it’s time for a real world test.

Therefore engineers have purposely drilled a pair of skinny 1 inch wide holes into two 1.47 inches thick tiles to mimic damage from a micrometeoroid hit. The holes are 1.4 inches and 1 inch deep and are located on the opposite side of the back shell from Orion’s windows and reaction control system jets, according to NASA.

“We want to know how much of the hot gas gets into the bottom of those cavities,” said Joseph Olejniczak, manager of Orion aerosciences, in a NASA statement.

“We have models that estimate how hot it will get to make sure it’s safe to fly, but with the data we’ll gather from these tiles actually coming back through Earth’s atmosphere, we’ll make new models with higher accuracy.”

Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The data gathered will help inform the team about the heat effects from potential damage and possible astronaut repair options in space.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle now under development to replace the now retired space shuttle.

The state-of-the-art spacecraft will carry America’s astronauts on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

The EFT-1 mission will test the systems critical for future human missions to deep space.

Orion’s back shell attachment and final assembly is taking place in the newly renamed Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center, Fl, technicians on work platform monitor progress as crane lowers the middle back shell tile panel for installation on the Orion crew module.   Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center, Fl, technicians on work platform monitor progress as crane lowers the middle back shell tile panel for installation on the Orion crew module. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

One of the primary goals of NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield and back shell tiles in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching over 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) during scorching re-entry heating.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

A trio of parachutes will then unfurl to slow Orion down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The Orion EFT-1 vehicle is due to roll out of the O & C in about two weeks and be moved to its fueling facility at KSC for the next step in launch processing.

Orion will eventually launch atop the SLS, NASA’s new mammoth heavy lift booster which the agency is now targeting for its maiden launch no later than November 2018 – detailed in my story here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Engineers Start Stacking Operations for Maiden Launch of NASA’s Orion Deep Space Test Capsule

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
Story updated[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL- Engineers have begun stacking operations for NASA’s maiden Orion deep space test capsule at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) achieving a major milestone leading to its first blastoff from the Florida Space Coast less than six months from today.

The excitement is mounting as final assembly of NASA’s Orion crew vehicle into its launch configuration started on Monday, June 9, inside the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Facility at Kennedy.

Orion will eventually carry humans to destinations far beyond low Earth orbit on new voyages of scientific discovery in our solar system.

“Orion is the next step in our journey of exploration,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot at a recent KSC media briefing.

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars. The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA.”

Orion is slated to launch on its inaugural unmanned test flight in December 2014 atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The main elements of the Orion spacecraft stack include the crew module (CM), service module (SM) and the launch abort system (LAS).

On Monday, technicians from Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin began aligning and stacking the crew module on top of the already completed service module in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell in the O & C facility at KSC.

“Ballast weights were added to ensure that the crew module’s center of gravity can achieve the appropriate entry and descent performance and also ensure that the vehicle lands in the correct orientation to reduce structural impact loads,” according to Lockheed Martin.

Engineers will remain busy throughout this week continuing to work at a 24/7 pace to get Orion ready for the December liftoff.

Orion heat shield attached to the bottom of the capsule by engineers during assembly work inside the  Operations and Checkout High Bay facility at KSC.  Credit: NASA
Orion heat shield attached to the bottom of the capsule by engineers during assembly work inside the Operations and Checkout High Bay facility at KSC. Credit: NASA

The next steps involve completing the power and fluid umbilical connections between the CM and SM and firmly bolting the two modules together inside the FAST cell.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Service module at bottom.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

An exhaustive series of electrical, avionic and radio frequency tests will follow. The team will then conduct final systems checks to confirm readiness for flight.

The LAS will then be stacked on top. The entire stack will then be rolled out to the launch pad for integration with the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The CM/SM stacking operation was able to move forward following the successful attachment of the world’s largest heat shield onto the bottom of the CM in late May. Read my prior story – here.

“Now that we’re getting so close to launch, the spacecraft completion work is visible every day,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion Program manager in a statement.

“Orion’s flight test will provide us with important data that will help us test out systems and further refine the design so we can safely send humans far into the solar system to uncover new scientific discoveries on future missions.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle now under development to replace the now retired space shuttle. The state-of-the-art spacecraft will carry America’s astronauts on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

No humans have flown beyond low Earth orbit in more than four decades since Apollo 17, NASA’s final moon landing mission launched in December 1972.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

One of the primary goals of NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) during scorching re-entry heating.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

A trio of parachutes will then unfurl to slow Orion down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The EFT-1 mission will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft, inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. All these measurements will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system.

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean,” said Lightfoot.

“Orion EFT-1 is really exciting as the first step on the path of humans to Mars,” said Lightfoot. “It’s a stepping stone to get to Mars.”

“We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what to expect on returning [astronauts] from Mars.”

Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Concurrently, new American-made private crewed spaceships are under development by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada – with funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) – to restore US capability to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth by late 2017.

Read my exclusive new interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden explaining the importance of getting Commercial Crew online to expand our reach into space- here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
Orion schematic. Credit: NASA

NASA Unveils Orion’s Powerful Delta IV Heavy Rocket Boosters for Dec. 2014 Blastoff

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Production and assembly of virtually all of the key hardware elements for NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight are either complete or nearing completion at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

Two of the three first stage boosters comprising the mammoth Delta IV Heavy rocket that will propel Orion to high Earth orbit have arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and were unveiled this week by top NASA managers at a media briefing attended by Universe Today.

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy rocket is currently the most powerful rocket in America’s fleet and the only one capable of launching the Orion EFT-1 capsule to its intended orbit of 3600 miles altitude above Earth.

Due to urgent US national security requirements, the maiden blastoff of the unmanned Orion pathfinder capsule – that will one day send humans back to the Moon and beyond Earth’s realm – has just been postponed about three months from September to December 2014 in order to make way for the accelerated launch of recently declassified US Air Force Space Surveillance satellites – as I reported here.

Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The center and starboard side boosters recently arrived at the Cape aboard a barge from Decatur, Alabama where they were manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The remaining port side booster and the Centaur upper stage are due to be shipped by ULA to Cape Canaveral in April.

“It’s great to see Orion, the next step in our journey of exploration, said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “And it’s very exciting to see the engines integrated into the booster.”

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars. The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA. We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what expect on returning [astronauts] from Mars.”

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean.”

Despite the EFT-1 launch postponement, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said technicians for prime contractor Lockheed Martin are pressing forward and continue to work around the clock at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in order to still be ready in time to launch by the original launch window that opens in mid- September 2014.

“The contractor teams are working to get the Orion spacecraft done on time for the December 2017 launch,” said former shuttle commander Cabana.

“They are working seven days a week in the Operations and Checkout High Bay facility to get the vehicle ready to roll out for the EFT-1 mission and be mounted on top of the Delta IV Heavy.”

“I can assure you the Orion will be ready to go on time, as soon as we get our opportunity to launch that vehicle on its first flight test and that is pretty darn amazing.”

“It’s great to see all the hardware and boosters that will take Orion to orbit.”

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Universe Today also confirmed with Cabana that NASA will absolutely not delay any Orion processing and assembly activities.

“Our plan is to have the Orion spacecraft ready because we want to get EFT-1 out so we can start getting the hardware in for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and start processing for that vehicle that will launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2017,” Cabana told me standing besides the Delta IV boosters inside the ULA Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral.

Side view of two Delta IV heavy boosters powered by RS-68 engines inside Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Side view of two Delta IV heavy boosters powered by RS-68 engines inside Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Although the mission will only last a few hours it will be high enough to send the vehicle plunging back into the atmosphere and a Pacific Ocean splashdown to test the craft and its heat shield at deep-space reentry speeds of 20,000 mph and endure temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit – like those of the Apollo moon landing missions.

The EFT-1 mission will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft, inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. All these measurements will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system.

“Orion EFT-1 is really exciting as the first step on the path of humans to Mars,” said Lightfoot. It’s a stepping stone to get to Mars.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30

Ken Kremer

Delta IV Heavy boosters and Ken Kremer of Universe Today reporting from inside Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral on NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Delta IV Heavy boosters and Ken Kremer of Universe Today reporting from inside Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral on NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

US Air Force Space Surveillance Satellite Bumps NASA’s long awaited Orion Launch to Dec. 2014

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
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CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The urgent need by the US Air Force to launch a pair of previously classified Space Situational Awareness satellites into Earth orbit this year on an accelerated schedule has bumped the inaugural blastoff of NASA’s highly anticipated Orion pathfinder manned capsule from September to December 2014.

It’s a simple case of US national security taking a higher priority over the launch of NASA’s long awaited unmanned Orion test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission.

The EFT-1 flight is NASA’s first concrete step towards sending human crews on Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) missions since the finale of the Apollo moon landing era in December 1972.

Final assembly of Orion is underway at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The very existence of the covert Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, was only recently declassified during a speech by General William Shelton, commander of the US Air Force Space Command.

Shelton made the announcement regarding the top secret GSSAP program during a Feb. 21 speech about the importance of space and cyberspace at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium and Technology exposition, in Orlando, FL.

US national security requirements forced NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission to swap launch slots with the GSSAP satellites – which were originally slated to launch later in 2014.

An artist concept shows Orion as it will appear in space for the Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta IV rockets Centaur second stage.   Credit: NASA
An artist concept shows Orion as it will appear in space for the Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta IV second stage. Credit: NASA

Since both spacecraft will blast off from the same pad at Complex 37 and atop Delta rockets manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a decision on priorities had to be made – and the military won out.

At a Cape Canaveral media briefing with Delta first stage boosters on Monday, March 17, Universe Today confirmed the order and payloads on the upcoming Delta IV rockets this year.

“The firing sequence for the Delta’s is the USAF Global Positioning System GPS 2F-6 [in May], GSSAP [in September] and Orion EFT-1 [in December], Tony Taliancich, ULA Director of East Coast Launch Operations, told me.

Universe Today also confirmed with the top management at KSC that NASA will absolutely not delay any Orion processing and assembly activities.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Despite the EFT-1 postponement, technicians for prime contractor Lockheed Martin are pressing forward and continue to work around the clock at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) so that NASA’s Orion spacecraft can still meet the original launch window that opens in mid- September 2014 – in case of future adjustments to the launch schedule sequence.

“Our plan is to have the Orion spacecraft ready because we want to get EFT-1 out so we can start getting the hardware in for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and start processing for that vehicle that will launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2017,” Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and former shuttle commander, told me.

Shelton stated that two of the GSSAP military surveillance satellites would be launched on the same launch vehicle later this year.

“GSSAP will present a significant improvement in space object surveillance, not only for better collision avoidance, but also for detecting threats,” Shelton said.

“GSSAP will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have, which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes.”

According to a new GSSAP online fact sheet, the program will be a space-based capability operating in near-geosynchronous orbit, supporting U.S. Strategic Command space surveillance operations as a dedicated Space Surveillance Network sensor.

“Some of our most precious satellites fly in that orbit – one cheap shot against the AEHF [Advanced Extremely High Frequency] constellation would be devastating,” added Shelton. “Similarly, with our Space Based Infrared System, SBIRS, one cheap shot creates a hole in our environment. GSSAP will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes.”

GSSAP will allow more accurate tracking and characterization of man-made orbiting objects, uniquely contribute to timely and accurate orbital predictions, enhance knowledge of the geosynchronous orbit environment, and further enable space flight safety to include satellite collision avoidance.

The GSSAP satellites were covertly developed by Orbital Sciences and the Air Force.

Two additional follow on GSSAP satellites are slated for launch in 2016.

“We must be prepared as a nation to succeed in increasingly complex and contested space and cyber environments, especially in these domains where traditional deterrence theory probably doesn’t apply,” Shelton explained. “We can’t afford to wait … for that catalyzing event that will prod us to action.”

Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center, discusses Orion EFT-1 with the media at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 17. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center, discusses Orion EFT-1 with the media at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 17. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The inaugural flight of Orion on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission had been on schedule to blast off from the Florida Space Coast in mid September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster, Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told Universe Today during a recent interview at KSC.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30

Ken Kremer