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Forum:Exploration: Asteroids, Moon and Mars
Topic:NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1)
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"President Obama and Congress have laid out an ambitious space exploration plan, and NASA is moving out quickly to implement it," NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver said. "This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon."

This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high apogee, with a high energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, SLS, and 21st Century Ground Systems programs. The agency has posted a synopsis explaining its intention on NASA's procurement website.

"The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit," NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) William Gerstenmaier said. "This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive."

NASA also intends to release several competitive solicitations to industry in the near future. One solicitation will request proposals for the design, development, test and evaluation of a new advanced liquid or solid booster capability for the SLS. Another future contract NASA intends to compete will be for the development of spacecraft, and payload adaptors and fairings for crew and cargo missions. The competition and award dates for these will be determined as missions are identified.

NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft to launch astronauts to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations atop SLS, the agency's new heavy launch vehicle. An early orbital flight test such as EFT-1 will provide data needed to influence design decisions and serve as a pathfinder to validate innovative new approaches to space systems development. The goal is to reduce the cost and schedule risks of exploration missions.

Robert PearlmanAlliant Techsystems (ATK) release
ATK to Prepare Orion Abort Motor for 2014 Test Flight of NASA's Orion Capsule

ATK today (Feb. 28) began conversion of the main abort motor for NASA's first Exploration Flight Test of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle slated for 2014 from Kennedy Space Center.

The inert system was recently returned to ATK's facility in Salt Lake City, Utah from Lockheed Martin's Waterton facility in Denver where the system successfully completed a series of rigorous acoustic and modal tests.

The abort motor is part of Orion's Launch Abort System, which is designed to safely lift the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during initial ascent phase of NASA's Space Launch System.

Standing more than 17 feet tall and measuring three feet in diameter, the abort motor was manufactured in 2008. The motor is an early prototype that was used to better understand the design and to aid in the build-up and acoustic testing of the Orion capsule.

"In new developmental programs, we reduce risk by building an inert prototype to better understand the design and manufacturing processes," said Charlie Precourt, ATK General Manager and Vice President of Space Launch Systems. "In the case of the abort motor, it will now be reconfigured to support the first orbital test flight of the Orion crew vehicle."

A few modifications will be incorporated into the abort motor, including replacing the manifold with a flight design, performing structural tests, adding case brackets for raceway and attachment points for Orion's shroud, and adding flight instrumentation to collect environmental and flight data during the test launch.

"This test flight is an extremely important milestone as we move forward with America's new human exploration spacecraft and heavy lift launch system, enabling our human space flight program to conduct missions beyond Earth's orbit," said Precourt.

The Orion, with its abort system, will fly aboard NASA's Space Launch System, the rocket currently being developed to expand America's capability in space exploration. The launch system will be powerful enough to take crew and cargo into an orbit that enables missions to the Moon, asteroids and eventually to Mars.

In addition to the main abort motor, ATK also makes the Attitude Control Motor for the abort system at its Elkton, Md. facility. The control motor provides steering for the launch abort vehicle during an abort sequence. The control motor to be used on EFT-1 is an inert motor also delivered in 2008, but requires no modifications for the flight test.

The launch abort system sits at atop the Orion spacecraft and was successfully tested during Orion's Pad Abort-1 flight test in 2010. The abort motor operational design utilizes a composite case and titanium manifold exhaust turn-flow technology, resulting in weight savings and improved performance. The control motor design includes eight proportional-valve thrusters with a redundant control system, which provide unparalleled control and safety.

Robert PearlmanNASA video release
Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 - 2014

This animation depicts the proposed test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014.

During the test, which is called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), Orion will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, perform two orbits, reaching an altitude higher than any achieved by a spacecraft intended for human use since 1973, and then will re-enter and land in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States.

Narration by Jay Estes, Deputy for flight test integration in the Orion program.

Robert PearlmancollectSPACE
First space-bound Orion crew capsule arrives at NASA's launch site

Without its heat shield or wiring installed and only welded metal panels to see, NASA's new spacecraft designed to take astronauts out beyond the Earth and into the solar system doesn't look like much, yet.

But according to NASA, industry and congressional leaders, who on Monday (July 2) marked the arrival of the first space-bound Orion crew module at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the capsule's olive-green aluminum-lithium pressure shell is an exciting sight to behold.

Robert Pearlman
NASA Progressing Toward First Launch of Orion Spacecraft

Recent engineering advances by NASA and its industry partners across the country show important progress toward Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), the next step to launching humans to deep space. The uncrewed EFT-1 mission, launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2014, will test the re-entry performance of the agency's Orion capsule, the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, which will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before.

"These recent milestones are laying the foundation for our first flight test of Orion in 2014," said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The work being done to prepare for the flight test is really a nationwide effort and we have a dedicated team committed to our goal of expanding the frontier of space."

A tool that will allow the titanium skeleton of the Orion heat shield to be bolted to its carbon fiber skin is at the Denver facility of the spacecraft's prime contractor Lockheed Martin. This will enable workers to begin assembling the two pieces of the heat shield. Almost 3,000 bolts are needed to hold the skeleton to the skin. A special stand was built to align the skin on the skeleton as holes for the bolts are drilled. Work to bolt the skeleton to the skin will be completed in January. The heat shield then will be shipped to Textron Defense Systems near Boston where the final layer, an ablative material very similar to that used on the Apollo spacecraft, will be added. The completed heat shield is scheduled to be ready for installation onto the Orion crew module at Kennedy next summer.

To test the heat shield during EFT-1's re-entry, Orion will travel more than 3,600 miles above Earth's surface, 15 times farther than the International Space Station's orbital position. This is farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. Orion will return home at a speed almost 5,000 mph faster than any current human spacecraft.

Recently, engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., received materials to begin manufacturing the adapter that will connect the Orion capsule to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy-lift rocket for EFT-1. Two forward and two aft rings will be welded to barrel panels to form two adapters. This adapter design will be tested during EFT-1 for use during the first launch of NASA's next heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), in 2017. SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads beyond low Earth orbit, providing an entirely new capability for human exploration.

Data from the adapter on the flight test will provide Marshall engineers with invaluable experience developing hardware early in the design process. Designing the adapter once for multiple flights also provides a cost savings.

Of the two adapters welded at Marshall, one will attach Orion to the Delta IV heavy-lift rocket used for EFT-1. The other adapter will be a structural test article to gain knowledge on the design.

NASA's Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program also has passed a major agency review that lays the groundwork at Kennedy to support future Orion and SLS launches. The GSDO Program completed a combined system requirements review and system definition review, in which an independent board of technical experts from across NASA evaluated the program's infrastructure specifications, budget and schedule. The board confirmed GSDO is ready to move from concept development to preliminary design. The combination of the two assessments represents a fundamentally different way of conducting NASA program reviews. The team is streamlining processes to provide the nation with a safe, affordable and sustainable launch facility.

The GSDO program earlier this month also led the third Stationary Recovery Test Working Group session in Norfolk, Va. The team presented to the U.S. Navy detachment that will recover the capsule during EFT-1 a complete list of tasks required to accomplish stationary recovery test objectives. The working group outlined the plan for roles and responsibilities to accomplish required test procedures. Included in these presentations were the commanding officer of the USS Mesa Verde and the fleet forces command director of operations, who both expressed complete support for the test.

Robert PearlmanATK release
ATK Delivers Inert Launch Abort Motor for Orion Spacecraft Exploration Flight Test 1

ATK successfully delivered a launch abort motor to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, scheduled to fly next year. The test flight abort motor is configured with inert propellant, since the EFT-1 mission will have no crew on board, but otherwise replicates the launch abort system that will ensure astronaut safety on future crewed Orion exploration missions using the new Space Launch System (SLS).

ATK's abort motor is part of Orion's Launch Abort System (LAS), which is designed to safely pull the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the initial ascent of NASA's SLS. Although an abort event is not necessary for the un-crewed mission, having an inert abort motor in the LAS stack for EFT-1 helps NASA achieve its goals simulating the same weight, structure and aerodynamics of the live motor configuration.

"Our launch abort motor is critical to ensuring safety, allowing for a greater reduction in risks for crewed flights," said Charlie Precourt, ATK vice president and general manager of the Space Launch Division. "ATK is proud to be a part of the Orion EFT-1 team. This is an important milestone for America's new human exploration program, which includes Orion and the Space Launch System, with a heavy-lift capability to take crew and cargo on missions to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars."

Successfully ground-tested in 2008 and flight-tested during Orion's Pad Abort test in 2010, the launch abort motor is more than 17 feet tall, measures three feet in diameter, and includes a revolutionary turn-flow rocket manifold technology. Two additional flight tests are scheduled for SLS, prior to the manned flight planned for 2020.

The launch abort motor was manufactured in 2008 as an inert pathfinder and has been modified at ATK's Bacchus, Promontory, and Clearfield, Utah, facilities to meet the needs of EFT-1. It was also instrumented to collect environmental and flight data during the test launch.

ATK also makes the Attitude Control Motor for the abort system at its Elkton, Md., facility. The control motor provides steering for the launch abort vehicle during an abort sequence.

The primary objective of EFT-1 is to test the Orion crew module, which will have the LAS attached during ascent. Orion will travel more than 3,600 miles above Earth's surface--more than 15 times farther away than the International Space Station's orbital position. This is farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. Orion will return to Earth at a speed over 20,000 mph, faster than any current human spacecraft.

ATK is on contract to Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), who is the prime contractor for building the Orion spacecraft. The industry team includes major subcontractors, such as ATK, and a nationwide network of minor subcontractors, small businesses and suppliers across the United States.

Robert PearlmanATK release
NASA's Orion spacecraft proves sound under pressure

After a month of being poked, prodded and pressurized in ways that mimicked the stresses of spaceflight, NASA's Orion crew module successfully passed its static loads tests on Wednesday.

When Orion launches on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is targeted for September 2014, it will travel farther from Earth than any spacecraft built for humans in more than 40 years. The spacecraft will fly about 3,600 miles above Earth's surface and return at speeds of approximately 25,000 mph. During the test, Orion will experience an array of stresses, or loads, including launch and reentry, the vacuum of space, and several dynamic events that will jettison hardware away from the spacecraft and deploy parachutes.

To ensure Orion will be ready for its flight test next year, engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida built a 20-foot-tall static loads test fixture for the crew module with hydraulic cylinders that slowly push or pull on the vehicle, depending on the type of load being simulated. The fixture produced 110 percent of the load caused by eight different types of stress Orion will experience during EFT-1. More than 1,600 strain gauges recorded how the vehicle responded. The loads ranged from as little as 14,000 pounds to as much as 240,000 pounds.

"The static loads campaign is our best method of testing to verify what works on paper will work in space," said Charlie Lundquist, NASA's Orion crew and service module manager at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "This is how we validate our design."

In addition to the various loads it sustained, the Orion crew module also was pressurized to simulate the effect of the vacuum in space. This simulation allowed engineers to confirm it would hold its pressurization in a vacuum and verify repairs made to superficial cracks in the vehicle's rear bulkhead caused by previous pressure testing in November.

The November test revealed insufficient margin in an area of the bulkhead that was unable to withstand the stress of pressurization. Armed with data from that test, engineers were able to reinforce the design to ensure structural integrity and validate the fix during this week's test.

To repair the cracks, engineers designed brackets that spread the stress of being pressurized to other areas of the module that are structurally stronger. During these tests Orion was successfully pressurized to 110 percent of what it would experience in space, demonstrating it is capable of performing as necessary during EFT-1.

Robert PearlmanATK release
NASA's Orion Spacecraft Comes to Life

NASA's first deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. 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.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Robert PearlmanLockheed Martin release
Lockheed Martin Team Tests Orion's Protective Panels

Team Progressing Toward Exploration Flight Test-1

Testing at the Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale facility in California using a series of precisely-timed, explosive charges and mechanisms, proved the Orion spacecraft can successfully jettison its protective fairing panels.

The Orion spacecraft has three fairings that protect the service module radiators and solar arrays from heat, wind and acoustics during ascent. This test was the second in a series of fairing separation tests — this time adding a thermal element. Engineers used strip heaters to heat one of the fairings to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, simulating the temperature the spacecraft will experience during its climb to orbit.

The testing revealed there was a successful separation of all three fairings while under flight-like thermal and structural conditions. The separation velocity and trajectory of each panel were within the Lockheed Martin predicted tolerances. The test data provides a high level of confidence that the panels will jettison as expected during the launch vehicle ascent.

"This successful test provides the Orion team with the needed data to certify this new fairing design for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) next year. The test also provides significant risk reduction for the fairing separation on future Orion manned missions," said Lance Lininger, engineering lead for Lockheed Martin's Orion mechanism systems.

Unique to Orion, the spacecraft's fairings support half the weight of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. This is a new design that improves performance, saves mass, and maximizes the size and capability of the spacecraft.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
Heat Shield for NASA's Orion Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

NASA's Orion spacecraft is just about ready to turn up the heat. The spacecraft's heat shield arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night aboard the agency's Super Guppy aircraft.

The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, is to be unloaded Thursday and is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March, in preparation for Orion's first flight test in September 2014.

"The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being prepared, is a major step toward Exploration Flight Test-1 next year," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "Sending Orion into space for the first time is going to give us crucial data to improve our design decisions and develop Orion to send humans on future missions to an asteroid and Mars."

The heat shield began its journey in January 2012 in Colorado, at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver. That was the manufacturing site for a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin that give the heat shield its shape and provide structural support during landing. They were shipped in March to Textron Defense Systems near Boston, where they were used in construction of the heat shield itself.

Textron installed a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb's 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, then X-rayed and sanded each cell to match Orion's design specifications. The Avcoat-treated shell will shield Orion from the extreme heat it will experience as it returns to Earth. The ablative material will wear away as it heats up during Orion's re-entry into the atmosphere, preventing heat from being transferred to the rest of the capsule.

"Many people across the country have poured a tremendous amount of hard work into building this heat shield," said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. "Their efforts are a critical part of helping us understand what it takes to bring a human-rated spacecraft back safely from deep space."

Before and during its manufacture, the heat shield material was subjected to arc-jet testing NASA's Ames Research Center in California and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Arc jets heat and expand gasses to very high temperatures and supersonic and hypersonic speeds, thus simulating the heating conditions that a returning spacecraft will experience.

The heat shield delivered to Kennedy will be used during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. The returning capsule is expected to encounter temperatures of almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels through Earth's atmosphere at up to 20,000 mph, faster than any spacecraft in the last 40 years.

Data gathered during the flight will influence decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to space systems and development. It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for future Orion missions, which include exploring an asteroid and Mars.

Robert PearlmanNASA photo release
Boosters for Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 staged for shipping to the Cape

Two United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy boosters that will launch NASA's first Orion spacecraft on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in September were being loaded onto a Mariner cargo barge in Decatur, Alabama Friday (Feb. 21), in preparation for their shipping to Florida in April.

The third booster is still in fabrication at ULA's Decatur facility.

Robert PearlmancollectSPACE
NASA slips first test flight of Orion capsule to December

The countdown to the maiden launch of Orion, a NASA space capsule designed to take astronauts out into the solar system, is now three months longer than previously planned.

The space agency on Friday (March 14) announced that it was retargeting the first flight of its Orion spacecraft from autumn to just before winter this year.

"The Orion team continues to work toward completing the spacecraft to be ready for a launch in [the] September [to] October [period]," NASA stated on its website. "However, the initial timeframe for the launch of the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) has shifted... to early December to support allowing more opportunities for launches this year."

Robert PearlmanLockheed Martin release
Orion Avionics System Ready for First Test Flight

Testing of the Orion spacecraft's avionics system has concluded at the Lockheed Martin Operations & Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After powering on and sending commands to more than 20 different critical systems installed on the spacecraft's crew module, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers have verified the avionics for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) are ready to support a successful flight and re-entry of the spacecraft.

Following the initial power on of the Vehicle Main Computer in October, engineers have since methodically installed additional harnessing, wiring and electronics onto the crew module—completing the avionics system that serves as the eyes, ears and brains of the spacecraft. During these tests, engineers one-by-one activated and sent commands to the pyrotechnics, batteries, thermal control, cameras, guidance and navigation, propulsion, and environmental control life support systems, all while evaluating signal quality, on-board system responses, and data production.

"Each and every one of these systems is critical to mission success and they must perform flawlessly to ensure the safety of future crews," said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin Orion program manager. "Now that we've finished functional testing, the team will conduct performance testing and turn on all the systems at once, simulating the spacecraft's operations during EFT-1."

During Orion's test flight, the uncrewed spacecraft will launch on the Delta IV Heavy and will travel 3,600 miles beyond low Earth orbit. That same day, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. EFT-1 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 deep space.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA's Orion spacecraft powers through first integrated system testing

NASA's Orion spacecraft has proven its mettle in a test designed to determine the spacecraft's readiness for its first flight test — Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) — later this year. EFT-1 will send the spacecraft more than 3,600 miles from Earth and return it safely.

The spacecraft ran for 26 uninterrupted hours during the final phase of a major test series completed April 8 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test verified the crew module can route power and send commands that enable the spacecraft to manage its computer system, software and data loads, propulsion valves, temperature sensors and other instrumentation.

"This has been the most significant integrated testing of the Orion spacecraft yet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's human exploration and operations at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "The work done to test the avionics with the crew module isn't just preparing us for Orion's first trip to space in a few months. It's also getting us ready to send crews far into the solar system."

In October 2013, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers powered on Orion's main computer for the first time. Since then, they have installed harnessing, wiring and electronics. This was the first time engineers ran the crew module through its paces to verify all system actuators respond correctly to commands and all sensors report back as planned. More than 20 miles of wire are required to connect the different systems being powered.

"Getting all the wiring right, integrating every element of the avionics together, and then testing it continuously for this many hours is a big step toward getting to deep space destinations," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager.

Engineers now are preparing the crew module for vibration testing, scheduled for the week of April 14. In May, the heat shield will be installed and, shortly thereafter, the crew module will be attached with the service module.

Robert PearlmanLockheed Martin release
Orion Undergoes Simulation of Intense Launch Vibrations

Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers have verified that the Orion spacecraft successfully passed an important environmental test called Multi-Point Random Vibration Testing. This test shakes the spacecraft's crew module to simulate the vibration it will experience during launch and ascent. Monitoring the spacecraft's performance through environmental testing helps to ensure that Orion will safely carry humans on future missions to deep space.

Engineers had two primary objectives during this test. The first was to correlate test results with model predictions, ensuring the spacecraft can withstand the anticipated levels of vibration during its first test flight later this year, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). The second consisted of monitoring more than 20 avionics and propulsion components to verify their performance while subjected to the vibration environment.

Orion's next environmental test will occur when the crew module and service module are stacked together. During this test, engineers will illuminate the spacecraft with different radio frequency signals it will experience during EFT-1. Engineers will verify Orion can withstand all the radio frequency sources it will be exposed to during launch, on-orbit, ascent and landing, ensuring there are no disruptions to critical systems on the vehicle.

Robert PearlmanLockheed Martin release
Orion In Final Assembly At Kennedy Space Center

Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers have started the process of installing the largest heat shield ever built onto the Orion spacecraft's crew module. The heat shield installation marks one of the final steps in the spacecraft's assembly leading up to its first flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), later this year.

EFT-1 will provide engineers data about the heat shield's ability to protect the crew module from the extreme 4000-degree heat of reentry and an ocean splashdown following Orion's 20,000 mph reentry from space.

In addition, key systems such as avionics, separation events, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment, and ground operations will be evaluated. Comprehensive data from the test flight will influence design decisions most critical to crew safety to lower risks and safely carry humans on future missions to deep space.

The team remains on schedule to complete the following milestones for the Dec. 4, 2014 launch date:

  • The crew module and service module will mate together and will undergo functional testing
  • The backshell tiles and forward bay cover will be installed onto the crew module
  • The crew module and service module will mate to the Delta IV Heavy second stage adapter
  • The spacecraft will be fueled and serviced at the Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility
  • The launch abort system will be stacked on top of the spacecraft
  • The spacecraft will be prepped and transported to Launch Pad 37 where Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance will perform pad integration and launch operations
"This team has done a great job keeping us on track for Orion's first test flight," said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. "That's no easy task when you're designing and building a unique vehicle for human exploration of deep space."
Robert PearlmanNASA photo release
Orion heat shield attached

The world's largest heat shield, measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, has been successfully attached to the Orion spacecraft. The heat shield is made from a single seamless piece of Avcoat ablator.

It will be tested on Orion's first flight in December 2014 as it protects the spacecraft from temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA's Orion Spacecraft Stacks Up for First Flight

With just six months until its first trip to space, NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues taking shape at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Engineers began stacking the crew module on top of the completed service module Monday, the first step in moving the three primary Orion elements –crew module, service module and launch abort system – into the correct configuration for launch.

Above: 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

"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. "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."

With the crew module now in place, the engineers will secure it and make the necessary power connections between to the service module over the course of the week. Once the bolts and fluid connector between the modules are in place, the stacked spacecraft will undergo electrical, avionic and radio frequency tests.

The modules are being put together in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell in the Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy. Here, the integrated modules will be put through their final system tests prior to rolling out of the facility for integration with the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will send it on its mission.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
Engineers and Technicians Install Protective Shell on NASA's Orion Spacecraft

The heat shield on NASA's Orion spacecraft gets all the glory when it comes to protecting the spacecraft from the intense temperature of reentry. Although the blunt, ablative shield will see the highest temperatures – up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on its first flight this December – the rest of the spacecraft is hardly left in the cold.

Engineers and technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center have finished installing the cone-shaped back shell of Orion's crew module – the protective cover on the sides that make up Orion's upside down cone shape. It's made up of 970 black tiles that should look very familiar – the same tiles protected the belly of the space shuttles as they returned from space.

Above: Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

But the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, while Orion will be coming in at 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.

And heat isn't the only concern. While in space, Orion will be vulnerable to the regular onslaught of micrometeoroid orbital debris. Although micrometeoroid orbital debris is too tiny to track, and therefore avoid, it can do immense damage to a spacecraft – for instance, it could punch through a back shell tile. 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.

Debris damage can be repaired in space with techniques pioneered after the space shuttle Columbia accident. A good deal of information was gathered then on what amount of damage warranted a repair. But the heating environment Orion will experience is different than the shuttle's was, and the old models don't apply.

Above: 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. (NASA)

Engineers will begin verifying new models when Orion returns from its first flight test this December. Before installing the back shell, engineers purposely drilled long, skinny holes into two tiles to mimic damage from a micrometeoroid hit. Each 1 inch wide, one of the holes is 1.4 inches deep and the other is 1 inch deep. The two tiles with these mock micrometeoroid hits are 1.47 inches thick and are located on the opposite side of the back shell from Orion's windows and reaction control system jets.

"We want to know how much of the hot gas gets into the bottom of those cavities," said Joseph Olejniczak, manager of Orion aerosciences. "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."

A better understanding of the heating environment for damage on Orion's heat shield will inform future decisions about what kind of damage may require a repair in space.

Robert PearlmanNASA photo release
Orion's First Crew Module Complete

NASA's first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The crew and service module will be transferred together on Thursday (Sept. 11) to another facility for fueling, before moving again for the installation of the launch abort system. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space on its first flight in December.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA's Orion Spacecraft Nears Completion, Ready for Fueling

NASA is making steady progress on its Orion spacecraft, completing several milestones this week at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the capsule's first trip to space in December.

Engineers finished building the Orion crew module, attached it and the already-completed service module to the adapter that will join Orion to its rocket and transported the spacecraft to a new facility for fueling.

"Nothing about building the first of a brand new space transportation system is easy," said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. "But the crew module is undoubtedly the most complex component that will fly in December. The pressure vessel, the heat shield, parachute system, avionics — piecing all of that together into a working spacecraft is an accomplishment. Seeing it fly in three months is going to be amazing."

Finishing the Orion crew module marks the completion of all major components of the spacecraft. The other two major elements — the inert service module and the launch abort system — were completed in January and December, respectively. The crew module was attached to the service module in June to allow for testing before the finishing touches were put on the crew module.

The adapter that will connect Orion to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket was built by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is being tested for use on the agency's Space Launch System rocket for future deep space missions.

NASA, Orion's prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and ULA managers oversaw the move of the spacecraft Thursday from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy, where it will be fueled with ammonia and hyper-propellants for its flight test. Once fueling is complete, the launch abort system will be attached. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on the Delta IV Heavy.

Orion is being built to send humans farther than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. Although the spacecraft will be uncrewed during its December flight test, the crew module will be used to transport astronauts safely to and from space on future missions. Orion will provide living quarters for up to 21 days, while longer missions will incorporate an additional habitat to provide extra space. Many of Orion's critical safety systems will be evaluated during December's mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1, when the spacecraft travels about 3,600 miles into space.

Robert PearlmanLockheed Martin release
Orion Spacecraft Transfers To Launch Abort System Facility

Orion in Final Integration Steps Before Exploration Flight Test-1

NASA and Lockheed Martin have finished fueling the Orion spacecraft with ammonia, hydrazine and high pressure helium at Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Orion has now been moved to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration with the launch abort system (LAS).

Above: On Sunday, September 27, 2014 the Orion spacecraft was transported from the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Once the launch abort system is integrated and functional testing concludes, the spacecraft is considered done," said Michael Hawes Lockheed Martin Orion program manager. "Then in November we'll integrate to the rocket, which is rolling out to the launch pad today."

Orion's LAS is a critical launch safety technology designed to immediately pull the capsule and crew out of harm's way in the event of an emergency. The LAS is the highest thrust and acceleration escape system ever created, significantly improving crew safety from pad operations through ascent. It consists of three solid rocket motors: an attitude control motor, which steers the crew away from the launch vehicle, a jettison motor, which pulls the LAS away from the crew module, and an abort motor, which propels the crew module away from the launch pad.

During Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) all nominal functions, including separation, will be tested on the LAS, however the abort functions are inactive. The LAS abort functions were previously tested in New Mexico at White Sands Missile Range during Pad Abort Test 1.

See here for discussion of NASA's 2014 Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1).

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