Orion Crew Module Comes Alive at T Minus 1 Year to Maiden Blastoff

Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Story and imagery updated[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Orion, the first NASA spaceship that will ever carry Earthlings to deep space destinations, has at last been “powered on” for the first time at the manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) where it’s the centerpiece of a beehive humming 24/7 with hi tech processing activities in all directions.

“Power On” marks a major milestone ahead of the maiden space bound Orion test flight dubbed “EFT-1” – now at T-Minus 1 year and counting!

NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin recently granted Universe Today an exclusive in depth inspection tour of the impressive Orion EFT-1 crew module, service module and associated hardware destined for the crucial unmanned test flight slated for liftoff from Cape Canaveral in September 2014.

“We are moving fast!” said Jules Schneider, Orion Project manager for Lockheed Martin at KSC, during an exclusive interview with Universe Today as we spoke beside the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft inside the clean room.

“We are bringing Orion to life. Lots of flight hardware has now been installed.”

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock ups stacked inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Powerful quartet of LAS abort motors will fire in case of launch emergency to save astronauts lives.  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. Powerful quartet of LAS abort motors will fire in case of launch emergency to save astronauts lives. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“We are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Schneider told me.

Some 200 people are actively employed on building Orion by Lockheed Martin at the Kennedy Space Center.

“There are many significant Orion assembly events ongoing this year,” said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin, in an interview with Universe Today at Lockheed Space Systems in Denver.

“This includes the heat shield construction and attachment, power on, installing the plumbing for the environmental and reaction control system, completely outfitting the crew module, attached the tiles, building the service module and finally mating the crew and service modules (CM & SM),” Price told me.

Orion is a state of the art crew capsule that will ultimately enable astronauts to fly to deep space destinations including the Moon, Asteroids, Mars and beyond – throughout our solar system.

And Universe Today has had a front row seat.

I have been very fortunate to periodically visit Orion up close over the past year and half to evaluate the testing and assembly progress inside the Operations and Checkout Building at KSC where the vehicle is now rapidly coming together, since the bare bones pressure vessel arrived to great fanfare in June 2012.

For the first time Orion looked to my eyes like a real spaceship, rather than the backbone shell outfitted with hundreds of important test harnesses, strain gauges and wiring to evaluate its physical and structural integrity.

Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1 Credit: Lockheed Martin
Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Engineers and technicians at KSC have removed the initial pressure testing gear and are now installing all the flight systems and equipment – such as avionics, instrumentation, flight computers, thrusters, wiring, plumbing, heat shield and much more – required to transform the initial empty shell into a fully functioning spacecraft.

“The Orion skeleton was here before. Now we are putting in all of the other systems,” Schneider explained to me.

“We are really busy.”

“So far over 66,000 Orion parts have been shipped to KSC from over 40 US states,” Price explained.

The heat shield was due to arrive soon and technicians were drilling its attachment ring holes as I observed the work in progress.

“The propulsion, environmental control and life support systems are now about 90% in. The ammonia and propylene glycol loops for the thermal control system are in. Many of the flight harnesses are installed.”

“All of the reaction control thrusters are in – fueled by hydrazine – as well as the two hydrazine tanks and a helium tank. Altogether there are 12 hydrazine pods with two thrusters each,” Schneider elaborated.

The power distribution unit (PDU) – which basically functions as Orion’s computer brains – was installed just prior to my visit. All four PDU’s – which issue commands to the vehicle – were built by Honeywell.

Technicians were actively installing fiber optic and coaxial cables as I watched. They also were conducting leak tests on the environmental control coolant (ECLS) systems which had to be completed before the ‘power on’ testing could begin – in order to cool the avionics systems.

Thermal protection system (TPS) tiles were being bonded to the back panels which ring Orion. The TPS panels get attached early in 2014.

“This is real stuff,” said Schneider gleefully.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a tile technician works on a section of thermal protection system tiles seen by Universe Today  and that will be installed on the Orion crew module. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a tile technician works on a section of thermal protection system tiles seen by Universe Today and that will be installed on the Orion crew module. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

NASA says that “the preliminary data indicate Orion’s vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system — which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities — performed as expected” during the initial crew module power on.

About two months or so of power on functional testing of various systems will follow.

Just like the configuration used in the Apollo era, the Orion crew module will sit atop a service module – and that work is likewise moving along at a rapid clip.

“The Orion service module (SM) is also almost complete,” Schneider said as he showed me the service module structure.

“Structurally the SM is 90% done. The active thermal control system is in and all the fluid systems are welded in and pressure tested.”

Cutaway diagram of Orion components including crew module and service module and adapters. Credit: NASA
Cutaway diagram of Orion components including crew module and service module and adapters. Credit: NASA

Orion EFT-1 will blastoff atop a mammoth United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the most powerful booster in America’s arsenal since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

The crew module and service module (CM/SM) will be mated inside the O&C and then be placed onto a mission adapter that eventually attaches to the top of the Delta IV Heavy booster.

They will be mated at the exact same spot in the O&C Building where the Apollo era command and service modules were stacked four decades ago.

Currently, the schedule calls for the Orion CM/SM stack to roll out to Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Services Facility (PHSF) for servicing and fueling late this year, said Larry Price.

After that the CM/SM stack is transported to the nearby Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) for mating to the emergency Launch Abort System (LAS).

All that work could be done around March 2014 so that ground operations preparing for launch can commence, according to Price.

“In March 2014 we’ll be ready for ground ops. The normal launch processing flow starts in June 2014 leading to Orion’s launch from pad 37 in September 2014.”

“It’s very exciting and a tribute to the NASA and contractor teams,” Price said.

The 2014 uncrewed flight will be loaded with a wide variety of instruments to evaluate how the spacecraft behaves during launch, in space and then through the searing heat of reentry.

The two-orbit, four- hour 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.

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
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

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 Orion EFT-1 mission will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base on Aug. 15, 2013, US Navy divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck on the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.
The Orion EFT-1 mission will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base on Aug. 15, 2013, US Navy divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck on the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.

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.

“The Orion hardware and the Delta IV Heavy booster for the EFT-1 launch are on target for launch in 2014,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations, told Universe Today in an interview.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Orion, MAVEN, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 14-19: “MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

Orion EFT-1 capsule under construction inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Jules Schneider, Orion Project Manager for Lockheed Martin and Ken Kremer, Universe Today.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion EFT-1 capsule under construction inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Jules Schneider, Orion Project Manager for Lockheed Martin and Ken Kremer, Universe Today. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA & US Navy Test Demonstrates Water Recovery of Orion Crew Capsule

During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base on Aug. 15, 2013, US Navy divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck on the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.
Story updated with additional test Video and images[/caption]

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK,VA – When American astronauts again venture into deep space sometime in the next decade, their return trip to Mother Earth will end with the splashdown of their Orion capsule in the Pacific Ocean – much like the Apollo lunar landing crews of four decades ago.

But before that can happen, Orion must first pass through a myriad of milestones to insure the safe return of our human crews.

A NASA and U.S. Navy test successfully demonstrated the water recovery of the Orion crew module today (Aug. 15) at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia – and Universe Today witnessed the entire operation.

“Today’s test was terrific,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations, told Universe Today in a post test interview at Naval Station Norfolk.

“We got all the data we needed and the test was very successful. This was exactly what we wanted to do and we don’t like surprises.”

US Navy divers on four boats attached tow lines and to the Orion test capsule and guide it to the well deck on the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
US Navy divers on four boats attached tow lines and to the Orion test capsule and guide it to the well deck on the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today’s ‘Orion Stationary Recovery Test’ was conducted to support the upcoming first flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission due to blastoff in September 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“We completed all of our primary and secondary test objectives,” Wilson stated.

Teams of US Navy divers in a flotilla of amphibious boats launched from the USS Arlington approached a test version of the Orion capsule known as the boilerplate test article (BTA). The Arlington was docked against its pier during the test in a benign, controlled environment.

Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Divers attached several tow lines to the capsule, in a coordinated operation with the Arlington, and led the capsule into the ship’s flooded well deck.

The Orion capsule was carefully towed inside the well deck and positioned over the recovery cradle. The sea water was drained and the capsule was attached to the recovery cradle.

Dive teams haul Orion onto the well deck of the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dive teams haul Orion onto the well deck of the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“During the test there is constant radio communications between the ship and the divers teams in the boats.”

“The operation within the well deck areas are also being controlled as well as the rope and winch handlers on the boat,” Wilson told me.

At the conclusion of the test, myself and the NASA social media participants boarded the USS Arlington and toured the Orion capsule for a thrilling up close look.

Myself and NASA social media participate observed Orion after hauled aboard the well deck and boarded the USS Arlington recovery ship.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Myself and NASA social media participants observed Orion after hauled aboard the well deck and boarded the USS Arlington recovery ship. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Today marks a significant milestone in the Navy’s partnership with NASA and the Orion Human Space Flight Program,” said Navy Commander Brett Moyes, Future Plans Branch chief, U.S. Fleet in a statement.

“The Navy is excited to support NASA’s continuing mission of space exploration. Our unique capabilities make us an ideal partner for NASA in the recovery of astronauts in the 21st century — just as we did nearly a half century ago in support of America’s quest to put a man on the moon.”

The ocean recovery of Orion will be far different from the Apollo era where the crew’s were first hoisted out of the floating capsule and the capsule then hoisted on deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier.

The next Orion water recovery test will be conducted in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean in January 2014.

Inside up close look at the Orion attached to the recovery cradle in the drained well deck of the USS Arlington recovery ship.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside up close look at the Orion attached to the recovery cradle in the drained well deck of the USS Arlington recovery ship. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Langley Research Center in nearby Hampton, VA is conducting an extensive drop test program in support of the Orion project.

“The Orion capsule tested today has the same mold line and dimensions as the Orion EFT-1 capsule.”

“The Orion hardware and the Delta IV Heavy booster for the EFT-1 launch are on target for launch in 2014,” Wilson told me.

Watch this NASA Video of the Orion test:

During the unmanned Orion EFT-1 mission, the capsule will fly on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any human spacecraft has gone in 40 years.

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 before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars.

It will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Right now its T Minus 1 Year and counting to liftoff of Orion EFT-1.

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Orion, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Social media and media including Ken observe the Aug. 15 Orion water recovery test from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk, VA.  Credit: NASA
Social media and media including Ken observe the Aug. 15 Orion water recovery test from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk, VA. Credit: NASA
Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion production manager and Ken Kremer, Universe Today discuss the Aug. 15 recovery test back dropped by Orion and the USS Arlington.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion production manager and Ken Kremer, Universe Today discuss the Aug. 15 recovery test back dropped by Orion and the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Alters 1st Orion/SLS Flight – Bold Upgrade to Deep Space Asteroid Harbinger Planned

NASA Orion spacecraft blasts off atop 1st Space Launch System rocket in 2017 – attached to European provided service module – on an ambitious mission to explore Deep Space some 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, where an asteroid could be relocated as early as 2021. Credit: NASA
Story updated with further details[/caption]

NASA managers have announced a bold new plan to significantly alter and upgrade the goals and complexity of the 1st mission of the integrated Orion/Space Launch System (SLS) human exploration architecture – planned for blastoff in late 2017.

The ambitious first flight, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), would be targeted to send an unpiloted Orion spacecraft to a point more than 40,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) beyond the Moon as a forerunner supporting NASA’s new Asteroid Redirect Initiative – recently approved by the Obama Administration.

The EM-1 flight will now serve as an elaborate harbinger to NASA’s likewise enhanced EM-2 mission, which would dispatch a crew of astronauts for up close investigation of a small Near Earth Asteroid relocated to the Moon’s vicinity.

Orion crew module separates from Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage. Credit: NASA
Orion crew module separates from Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage. Credit: NASA

Until recently NASA’s plan had been to launch the first crewed Orion atop the 2nd SLS rocket in 2021 to a high orbit around the moon on the EM-2 mission, said NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver in an prior interview with me at the Kennedy Space Center.

Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.
Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.

The enhanced EM-1 flight would involve launching an unmanned Orion, fully integrated with the Block 1 SLS to a Deep Retrograde Orbit (DRO) near the moon, a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where an asteroid could be moved to as early as 2021.

Orion’s mission duration would be nearly tripled to 25 days from the original 10 days.

“The EM-1 mission with include approximately nine days outbound, three to six days in deep retrograde orbit and nine days back,” Brandi Dean, NASA Johnson Space Center spokeswoman told Universe Today exclusively.

The proposed much more technologically difficult EM-1 mission would allow for an exceptionally more vigorous work out and evaluation of the design of all flight systems for both Orion and SLS before risking a flight with humans aboard.

Asteroid Capture in Progress
Asteroid Capture in Progress

A slew of additional thruster firings would exercise the engines to change orbital parameters outbound, around the moon and inbound for reentry.

The current Deep Retrograde Orbit (DRO) plan includes several thruster firings from the Orion service module, including a powered lunar flyby, an insertion at DRO, an extraction maneuver from the DRO and a powered flyby on return to Earth.

Orion would be outfitted with sensors to collect a wide variety of measurements to evaluate its operation in the harsh space environment.

“EM-1 will have a compliment of both operational flight instrumentation and development flight instrumentation. This instrumentation suite gives us the ability to measure many attributes of system functionality and performance, including thermal, stress, displacement, acceleration, pressure and radiation,” Dean told me.

The EM-1 flight has many years of planning and development ahead and further revisions prior to the 2017 liftoff are likely.

“Final flight test objectives and the exact set of instrumentation required to meet those objectives is currently under development,” Dean explained.

Orion is NASA’s next generation manned space vehicle following the retirement of NASA’s trio of Space Shuttles in 2011.

The SLS launcher will be the most powerful and capable rocket ever built by humans – exceeding the liftoff thrust of the Apollo era Moon landing booster, the mighty Saturn V.

“We sent Apollo around the moon before we landed on it and tested the space shuttle’s landing performance before it ever returned from space.” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, in a statement.

“We’ve always planned for EM-1 to serve as the first test of SLS and Orion together and as a critical step in preparing for crewed flights. This change still gives us that opportunity and also gives us a chance to test operations planning ahead of our mission to a relocated asteroid.”

Both Orion and SLS are under active and accelerating development by NASA and its industrial partners.

The 1st Orion capsule is slated to blast off on the unpiloted EFT-1 test flight in September 2014 atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface.

Technicians work on mockups of the Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) to simulate critical assembly techniques inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the EFT-1 mission due to liftoff in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Technicians work on mockups of the Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) to simulate critical assembly techniques inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the EFT-1 mission due to liftoff in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of about 20,000 MPH (11 km/sec) and endure temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical test designed to evaluate the performance of Orion’s heatshield and numerous spacecraft systems.

Orion EFT-1 is already under construction at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) by prime contractor Lockheed Martin – read my earlier story here.

Integration and stacking tests with Orion’s emergency Launch Abort System are also in progress at KSC – details here.

NASA says the SLS is also in the midst of a extensive review process called the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to ensure that all launch vehicle components and systems will achieve the specified performance targets and be completed in time to meet the 2017 launch date. The PDR will be completed later this summer.

NASA’s goal with Orion/SLS is to send humans to the Moon and other Deep Space destinations like Asteroids and Mars for the first time in over forty years since the final manned lunar landing by Apollo 17 back in 1972.

NASA Headquarters will make a final decision on upgrading the EM-1 mission after extensive technical reviews this summer.

Ken Kremer

Schematic of Orion components. Credit: NASA
Schematic of Orion components. Credit: NASA

Orion Capsule Accelerating to 2014 Launch and Eventual Asteroid Exploration

NASA is picking up the construction pace on the inaugural space-bound Orion crew capsule at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida – and accelerating towards blastoff on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 mission (EFT-1) slated for September 2014 atop a mammoth Delta 4 Heavy Booster which will one day lead to deep space human forays to Asteroids and Mars.

Orion was at the center of an impressive and loud beehive of action packed assembly activities by technicians during my recent exclusive tour of the spacecraft to inspect ongoing progress inside the renovated Orion manufacturing assembly facility in the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at KSC.

“We plan to power up Orion for the first time this summer,” said Scott Wilson in an exclusive interview with Universe Today beside the Orion vehicle. Wilson is Orion’s Production Operations manager for NASA at KSC.

The Orion EFT-1 flight is a critical first step towards achieving NASA’s new goal of capturing and retrieving a Near Earth Asteroid for eventual visit by astronauts flying aboard an Orion vehicle by 2021 – if NASA’s budget request is approved.

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
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

KSC will have a leading role in NASA’s asteroid retrieval project that could occur some four years earlier than President Obama’s targeted goal of 2025 for a human journey to an asteroid.

Capturing an asteroid and dispatching astronauts aboard Orion to collect precious rock samples will aid our scientific understanding of the formation of the Solar System as well as bolster Planetary Defense strategies – the importance of which is gathering steam following the unforeseen Russian meteor strike in February which injured over 1200 people and damaged over 3000 buildings.

Dozens of highly skilled workers were busily cutting metal, drilling holes, bolting screws and attaching a wide range of mechanical and electrical components and bracketry to the Orion pressure vessel’s primary structure as Universe Today conducted a walk around of the EFT-1 capsule, Service Module and assorted assembly gear inside the O&C.

Orion EFT-1 crew cabin and full scale mural showing Orion Crew Module atop Service Module inside the O & C Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion EFT-1 crew cabin and full scale mural showing Orion Crew Module atop Service Module inside the O & C Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor for Orion. A growing number of employees hired by Lockheed and United Space Alliance (USA) are “working 2 shifts per day 7 days a week to complete the assembly work by year’s end,” said Jules Schneider, Orion Project manager for Lockheed Martin at KSC, during an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

I watched as the workers were boring hundreds of precision holes and carefully tightening the high strength steel bolts to attach the top to bottom ring segments made of titanium to the main load paths on the pressure vessel.

“We are installing lots of wiring to support ground test instrumentation for the strain gauges as well as microphones and accelerometers.”

“The simulated back shell panels are being installed now as guides,” said Wilson. “The real back shell panels and heat shield will be installed onto the structure later this year.”

“The heat shield is the biggest one ever built, 5 meters in diameter. Its bigger than Apollo and Mars Science Lab. It varies in thickness from about 1 to 3 inches depending on the expected heating.”

“We are making good progress on the Orion Service module too. The outer panels will be installed soon,” Wilson explained.

The olive green colored crew module was clamped inside the birdcage-like Structural Assembly Jig during my visit. The Jig has multiple degrees of freedom to maneuver the capsule and more easily enable the detailed assembly work.

“The technicians are installing strain gauges and secondary structure components to get it ready for the upcoming structural loads test,” said Schneider.

“After that we need to finish installing all the remaining parts of the primary structure and a significant portion of the secondary structure.”

For the next stage of processing, the EFT-1 crew module has been lifted out of the birdcage Jig and moved onto an adjacent dedicated work station for loads testing at the Operations and Checkout building.

As reported in my earlier article the Orion pressure vessel sustained three ‘hairline” cracks in the lower half of the aft bulkhead during proof pressure testing of the vessel and welds at the O & C.

I was observing as the technicians were carefully milling out the miniscule bulkhead fractures.

Workers have now installed custom built replacement brackets and reinforcing doublers on the aft bulkhead.

“We will do the protocol loads test with pressure using about 9 different load cases the vehicle will see during the EFT-1 flight. Chute deployment and jettison motor deployment is a driving load case,” said Schneider.

“We will also squeeze the capsule,” said Wilson.

“That structural loads testing of the integrated structure will take about 6 to 8 weeks. There are thousands of gauges on the vehicle to collect data,” Schneider elaborated.

“The test data will be compared to the analytical modeling to see where we are at and how well it matched the predictions – it’s like acceptance testing.”

“After we finish the structural loads tests we can than start the assembly and integration of all the other subsystems.”

“When we are done with the ground testing program then we remove all the ground test instrumentation and start installing all the actual flight systems including harnesses and instrumentation, the plumbing and everything else,” Schneider explained.

Orion hardware built by contractors and subcontractors from virtually every state all across the U.S is being delivered to KSC for installation onto EFT-1. Orion is a nationwide human spaceflight project.

Concept of Spacecraft with Asteroid Capture Mechanism Deployed. Credit: NASA.
Concept of Spacecraft with Asteroid Capture Mechanism Deployed. Credit: NASA.

During the unmanned Orion EFT-1 mission, the capsule will fly on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any human spacecraft has gone in 40 years.

It will then fire braking rockets to plunge back to Earth, re-enter the atmosphere at about 20,000 MPH and test numerous spacecrafts systems, the heat shield and all three parachutes for an ocean splashdown.

Meanwhile other Orion EFT-1 components such as the emergency Launch Abort System (LAS) and Service Module are coming together – read my Orion follow-up reports.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo Moon landings ended in 1972. Orion will change that.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Orion, Antares, SpaceX, Curiosity and NASA robotic and human spaceflight missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus “The Space Shuttle Finale and the Future of NASA – Orion, SpaceX, Antares and more!” NEAF Astronomy Forum, Rockland Community College, Suffern, NY. 3-4 PM Sat & Sunday. Display table all day.

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus the Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Antares, Orion and more. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

Orion EFT-1 crew cabin construction ongoing at the Kennedy Space Center which is due to blastoff in September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer
Orion EFT-1 crew cabin construction ongoing at the Kennedy Space Center which is due to blastoff in September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer

New Look and New Animation for Orion’s 2017 Flight to the Moon and Back

The Orion spacecraft has gotten a new look for its first launch atop the inaugural flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster on the Exploration Mission-1 flight around the Moon in 2017 as seen in this new animation.

The vehicles service module will be built by the European Space Agency (ESA), as a result of a new bilateral agreement between NASA and ESA. Orion is designed to carry humans back to the Moon and to deep space destinations like Asteroids and Mars.

The service module will fuel and propel the capsule on its uncrewed journey to the Moon and back on EM-1 in 2017.

Read my follow-up report for details about the new NASA/ESA agreement. See my earlier story here, about preparations for the first Orion launch in September 2014 on the upcoming Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014 atop a Delta IV Heavy. An unmanned Orion will fly on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than a human spacecraft has gone in 40 years, and then plunge back to Earth to test the spacecrafts systems and heat shield.

NASA is also simultaneously fostering the development of commercial ‘space taxis’ to fly astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a dual track approach to restore America’s human space launch capability. The 1st commercial crew vehicle might fly as early as 2015 – details here.

Ken Kremer

Image caption: Orion EFT-1 crew cabin construction ongoing at the Kennedy Space Center which is due to blastoff in September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion assemblage on track for 2014 Launch

Image caption: Orion EFT-1 crew cabin construction ongoing inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). This is the inaugural space-bound Orion vehicle due to blastoff from Florida in September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA is thrusting forward and making steady progress toward launch of the first space-bound Orion crew capsule -designed to carry astronauts to deep space. The agency aims for a Florida blastoff of the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 mission (EFT-1) in September 2014 – some 20 months from now – NASA officials told Universe Today.

I recently toured the Orion spacecraft up close during an exclusive follow-up visit to check the work in progress inside the cavernous manufacturing assembly facility in the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Vehicle assemblage is run under the auspices of prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corporation.

A lot of hardware built by contractors and subcontractors from all across the U.S. is now arriving at KSC and being integrated with the EFT-1 crew module (CM), said Jules Schneider, Orion Project manager for Lockheed Martin at KSC, during an interview with Universe Today beside the spacecraft at KSC.

“Everyone is very excited to be working on the Orion. We have a lot of work to do. It’s a marathon not a sprint to build and test the vehicle,” Schneider explained to me.

My last inspection of the Orion was at the official KSC unveiling ceremony on 2 July 2012 (see story here). The welded, bare bones olive green colored Orion shell had just arrived at KSC from NASA’s Michoud facility in New Orleans. Since then, Lockheed and United Space Alliance (USA) technicians have made significant progress outfitting the craft.

Workers were busily installing avionics, wiring, instrumentation and electrical components as the crew module was clamped in place inside the Structural Assembly Jig during my follow-up tour. The Jig has multiple degrees of freedom to move the capsule and ease assembly work.

“Since July and to the end of 2012 our primary focus is finishing the structural assembly of the crew module,” said Schneider.

“Simultaneously the service module structural assembly is also ongoing. That includes all the mechanical assembly inside and out on the primary structure and all the secondary structure including the bracketry. We are putting in the windows and gussets, installing the forward bay structure leading to the crew tunnel, and the aft end CM to SM mechanism components. We are also installing secondary structures like mounting brackets for subsystem components like avionics boxes and thruster pods as parts roll in here.”


Image caption: Window and bracket installation on the Orion EFT-1 crew module at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

“A major part of what we are doing right now is we are installing a lot of harnessing and test instrumentation including alot of strain gauges, accelerometers, thermocouples and other gauges to give us data, since that’s what this flight is all about – this is a test article for a test flight.

“There is a huge amount of electrical harnesses that have to be hooked up and installed and soldered to the different instruments. There is a lot of unique wiring for ground testing, flight testing and the harnesses that will be installed later along with the plumbing. We are still in a very early stage of assembly and it involves alot of very fine work,” Schneider elaborated. Ground test instrumentation and strain gauges are installed internally and externally to measure stress on the capsule.

Construction of the Orion service module is also moving along well inside the SM Assembly Jig at an adjacent work station. The SM engines will be mass simulators, not functional for the test flight.

Image caption: Orion EFT-1 crew cabin and full scale mural showing Orion Crew Module atop Servivce Module inside the O & C Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been assigned the task of building the fully functional SM to be launched in 2017 on NASA’s new SLS rocket on a test flight to the moon and back.

Although Orion’s construction is proceeding apace, there was a significant issue during recent proof pressure testing at the O & C when the vehicle sustained three cracks in the aft bulkhead of the lower half of the Orion pressure vessel.

“The cracks did not penetrate the pressure vessel skin, and the structure was holding pressure after the anomaly occurred,” Brandi Dean, a NASA Public Affairs Officer told me. “The failure occurred at 21.6 psi. Full proof is 23.7 psi.”

“A team composed of Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers have removed the components that sustained the cracks and are developing options for repair work. Portions of the cracked surface were removed and evaluated, letting the team eliminate problems such as material contamination, manufacturing issues and preexisting defects from the fault tree. The cracks are in three adjacent, radial ribs of this integrally machined, aluminum bulkhead,” Dean stated.

Image caption: NASA graphic of 3 cracks discovered during recent proof pressure testing. Credit: NASA

The repairs will be subjected to rigorous testing to confirm their efficacy as part of the previously scheduled EFT-1 test regimen.

A great deal of work is planned over the next few months including a parachute drop test just completed this week and more parachute tests in February 2013. The heat shield skin and its skeleton are being manufactured at a Lockheed facility in Denver, Colorado and shipped to KSC. They are due to be attached in January 2013 using a specialized tool.

“In March 2013, we’ll power up the crew module at Kennedy for the first time,” said Dean.

Orion will soar to space atop a mammoth Delta IV Heavy booster rocket from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Construction and assembly of the triple barreled Delta IV Heavy is the pacing item upon which the launch date hinges, NASA officials informed me.

Following the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttles, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy is now the most powerful booster in the US arsenal and heretofore has been used to launch classified military satellites. Other than a specialized payload fairing built for Orion, the rocket will be virtually identical to the one that boosted a super secret U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite to orbit on June 29, 2012 (see my launch story here).

Orion will fly in an unmanned configuration during the EFT-1 test flight and orbit the Earth two times – reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles which is 15 times farther than the International Space Station’s orbital position. The primary objective is to test the performance of Orion’s heat shield at the high speeds and searing temperatures generated during a return from deep space like those last experienced in the 1970’s by the Apollo moon landing astronauts.

The EFT-1 flight is not the end of the road for this Orion capsule.

“Following the EFT-1 flight, the Orion capsule will be refurbished and reflown for the high altitude abort test, according to the current plan which could change depending on many factors including the budget,” explained Schneider.

“NASA will keep trying to do ‘cool’ stuff”, Bill Gerstenmaier, the NASA Associate Administrator for Human Space Flight, told me.

Stay tuned – Everything regarding human and robotic spaceflight depends on NASA’s precarious budget outlook !

Ken Kremer

Image caption: Orion EFT-1 crew cabin assemblage inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Jules Schneider, Orion Project Manager for Lockheed Martin and Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer

1st Space-bound Orion Crew Capsule Unveiled at Kennedy

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida welcomes the newly arrived Orion crew capsule at a Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012 and proclaims Mars is NASA’s long term goal for human exploration. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA’s first space-bound Orion crew capsule was officially unveiled at a welcoming ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday (July 2) to initiate a process that the agency hopes will finally put Americans back on a path to exciting destinations of exploration beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years since Apollo and spawn a new era in deep space exploration by humans – starting with an initial uncrewed test flight in 2014.

Over 450 invited guests and dignitaries attended the Orion arrival ceremony at Kennedy’s Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) to mark this watershed moment meant to reignite human exploration of the cosmos.

“This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. “Today we are lifting our spirits to new heights.”

Image caption: Posing in front of NASA’s 1st Orion crew module set for 2014 liftoff are; KSC Director Bob Cabana, Mark Geyer, NASA Orion Program manager, Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator. Credit: Ken Kremer

This Orion capsule is due to lift off on a critical unmanned test flight in 2014 atop a powerful Delta 4 Heavy booster – like the Delta rocket just launched on June 29.

The bare bones, olive green colored aluminum alloy pressure shell arrived at KSC last week from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility where the vessel was assembled and the final welds to shape it into a capsule were just completed. Every space shuttle External Tank was built at Michoud in New Orleans.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has spearheaded the effort in Congress to give NASA the goal and the funding to build the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the means to launch it atop the most powerful rocket ever built – a Saturn V class booster dubbed the SLS or Space Launch System – to destinations in deep space that have never been explored before.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” said Nelson as he stood in front of the incomplete vessel, motioned to the crowd and aimed his sights high. “I know there are a lot of people here who can’t wait to get their hands and their fingers on this hardware.

“And ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to Mars!” proclaimed Nelson.

“Without question, the long-term goal of our space program, human space program right now is the goal of going to Mars in the decade of the 2030s.”

“We still need to refine how we’re going to go there, we’ve got to develop a lot of technologies, we’ve got to figure out how and where we’re going to stop along the way. The president’s goal is an asteroid in 2025. But we know the Orion capsule is a critical part of the system that is going to take us there.”


Image caption: The green colored aluminum alloy pressure vessel arrived at KSC last week and will be outfitted with all the instrumentation required for spaceflight. Launch is slated for 2014 atop Delta 4 Heavy booster from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral. Crew hatch and tunnel visible at center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed.

Over about the next 18 months, engineers and technicians at KSC will install all the systems and gear – such as avionics, instrumentation, flight computers and the heat shield – required to transform this empty shell into a functioning spacecraft.

The 2014 uncrewed flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, will be loaded with a wide variety of instruments to evaluate how the spacecraft behaves during launch, in space and then through the searing heat of reentry.

The 2 orbit 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. Although the mission will only last a few hours it will be able high enough to send the vehicle plunging back into the atmosphere at over 20.000 MPH to test the craft and its heat shield at deep-space re-entry speeds approaching those of the Apollo moon landing missions.

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida discusses the new arrived Orion capsule with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver while surrounded by a horde of reporters at the Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion arrived at Kennedy on nearly the same day that the center opened its door 50 years ago.

“As KSC celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate than by having the very first Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle here at KSC,” said KSC Center Director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander, at the O & C ceremony.

“The future is here, now, and the vehicle we see here today is not a Powerpoint chart. It’s a real spacecraft, moving toward a test flight in 2014.”

In 2017, an Orion capsule will lift off on the first SLS flight. The first crewed Orion will launch around 2021 and orbit the moon, Lori Garver told me in an interview at KSC.

But the entire schedule and construction of the hardware is fully dependent on funding from the federal government.

In these lean times, there is no guarantee of future funding and NASA’s budget has already been significantly chopped – forcing numerous delays and outright mission cancellations on many NASA projects; including the outright termination of NASA next Mars rover and multi-year delays to the commercial crew program and prior plans to launch a crewed Orion to orbit as early as 2013.

Image caption: Veteran NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim discusses Orion with Universe Today. Walheim flew on the last space shuttle mission (STS-135). Credit: Ken Kremer

Astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew on the final space shuttle mission (STS-135) and has had key role in developing Orion, said the Orion capsule can be the principal spacecraft for the next 30 years of human exploration of the solar system.

“It’s the first in a line of vehicles that can take us where we’ve never gone before,” Walheim said. “It’ll be a building block approach, we’ll have to have a lander and a habitation module, but we can get there.”


Image caption: John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight poses with Orion and discusses the upcoming 2014 EFT-1 test flight with Universe Today. Lockheed is the prime contractor for Orion. Credit: Ken Kremer

“Personally I am thrilled to be working on the next vehicle that will take us beyond low Earth orbit, said John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to build Orion.

“Orion will carry humans to destinations never explored before and change human’s perspectives”

“Folks here are ready to start working on the EFT-1 mission. In about 18 months, EFT-1 will fly on the next Delta 4 Heavy flight.

“I can’t wait to go deeper into the cosmos!” Karas exclaimed.

Ken Kremer

…..
July 13/14: Free Public Lectures about NASA’s Mars and Planetary Exploration, the Space Shuttle, SpaceX , Orion and more by Ken Kremer at the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake, NY.

Orion Crew Capsule Targeted for 2014 Leap to High Orbit

[/caption]

NASA is on course to make the highest leap in human spaceflight in nearly 4 decades when an unmanned Orion crew capsule blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a high stakes, high altitude test flight in early 2014.

A new narrated animation (see below) released by NASA depicts the planned 2014 launch of the Orion spacecraft on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission to the highest altitude orbit reached by a spaceship intended for humans since the Apollo Moon landing Era.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated spacecraft and designed for missions to again take humans to destinations beyond low Earth orbit- to the Moon, Mars, Asteroids and Beyond to deep space.


Orion Video Caption – Orion: Exploration Flight Test-1 Animation (with narration by Jay Estes). This animation depicts the proposed test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014. Narration by Jay Estes, Deputy for flight test integration in the Orion program.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is making steady progress constructing the Orion crew cabin that will launch atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster rocket on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles and test the majority of Orion’s vital vehicle systems.

The capsule will then separate from the upper stage, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at a speed exceeding 20,000 MPH, deploy a trio of huge parachutes and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California.

Lockheed Martin is responsible for conducting the critical EFT-1 flight under contract to NASA.

Orion will reach an altitude 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) circling in low orbit some 250 miles above Earth and provide highly valuable in-flight engineering data that will be crucial for continued development of the spaceship.

Orion Exploration Flight Test One Overview. Credit: NASA

“This flight test is a challenge. It will be difficult. We have a lot of confidence in our design, but we are certain that we will find out things we do not know,” said NASA’s Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.

“Having the opportunity to do that early in our development is invaluable, because it will allow us to make adjustments now and address them much more efficiently than if we find changes are needed later. Our measure of success for this test will be in how we apply all of those lessons as we move forward.”

Lockheed Martin is nearing completion of the initial assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule at NASA’s historic Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, which for three decades built all of the huge External Fuel Tanks for the NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

In May, the Orion will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly and eventual integration atop the Delta 4 Heavy rocket booster and launch from Space Launch Complex 37 at nearby Cape Canaveral. The Delta 4 is built by United Launch Alliance.

The first integrated launch of an uncrewed Orion is scheduled for 2017 on the first flight of NASA’s new heavy lift rocket, the SLS or Space Launch System that will replace the now retired Space Shuttle orbiters

Continued progress on Orion, the SLS and all other NASA programs – manned and unmanned – is fully dependent on the funding level of NASA’s budget which has been significantly slashed by political leaders of both parties in Washington, DC in recent years.

…….

March 24 (Sat): Free Lecture by Ken Kremer at the New Jersey Astronomical Association, Voorhees State Park, NJ at 830 PM. Topic: Atlantis, the End of Americas Shuttle Program, Orion, SpaceX, CST-100 and the Future of NASA Human & Robotic Spaceflight