Spaceflight Insider

NASA’s Orion spacecraft conducts CDR on the road to EM-1

Orion spacecraft with ATV service module NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s next crew-rated spacecraft, Orion, began its critical design review or “CDR” starting on Monday, Aug. 3, at the space agency’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas. The agency is working to have Orion ride NASA’s new super heavy-lift booster – the Space Launch System or “SLS” – to orbit. From there, Orion would travel to distant locations in the Solar System.

The CDR is not just a brief review of the statistics revolving around the spacecraft’s production and development, however. It is comprehensive, slated to last until at least late October of this year.

Technicians and engineers will now look over all of the data compiled as Orion has been developed. The vehicle’s systems and subsystems will be evaluated to determine their status. This is no small task considering that there are thousands of documents that have been produced to date.

2009 exploded view of Lockheed Martin Orion spacecraft NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

A 2009 view of the Orion spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

“Our team across the country has been working incredibly hard to develop a spacecraft capable of expanding humanity’s frontier in the Solar System,” said NASA’s Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. “Since even before flying Orion in space last year, we’ve been moving at full steam toward our first flight on SLS, and this review gives us a chance to make sure all systems and their designs meet our requirements and are in sync before we continue pressing ahead.”

The CDR will also incorporate support elements of the first combined SLS and Orion flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) currently scheduled to take place in 2018. These systems include, but are not limited to, Orion’s core elements, pyrotechnics, Launch Abort System (which recently completed its own CDR) guidance, navigation, control, and the vehicle’s software.

Although systems that pertain to the EM-2 mission will also be reviewed, that mission will have its own comprehensive CDR – carried out in the fall of 2017. During the CDR currently taking place, Orion’s intended launch vehicle, SLS, will be reviewed, as will ground structures that will support the two and numerous other subsystems.

“We’re working through our critical design review now so that we can balance evaluating individual components with the hardware manufacturing needs we have to start our assembly and integration activities,” said Geyer.

While EM-1 might be the first flight of Orion atop SLS, it is not the spacecraft’s first time to take to the skies. In December of 2014, Orion was launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37 in Florida.

From there, it completed two orbits above Earth, traveling out some 3,600 miles (5,794 km) away from our home world before returning. When the EFT-1 Orion re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, it was traveling at the blistering pace of some 20,000 miles (32,187 km) per hour. In so doing, it provided data about how the vehicle’s heat shield handled the descent down to the Pacific Ocean and the stresses that it encountered during its journey.

When the next Orion spacecraft escapes Earth’s atmosphere, it will travel much farther, to beyond the far side of the Moon – a location that NASA astronauts have not ventured to since 1972. Crewed flights should follow.

NASA Orion spacecraft Lockheed Martin being readied for Exploration Flight Test 1 NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: NASA


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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