Spaceflight Insider

Orion heat shield arrives at Kennedy Space Center

EM-1 Orion heat shield structure delivered to Kennedy Space Center.

The Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) Orion heat shield structure delivered to Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

The titanium truss structure component (along with its composite “skin”) of the Exploration Mission (EM) -1 Orion crew capsule heat shield has arrived at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The EM-1 Orion capsule will fly around the Moon, uncrewed, in 2018 on the inaugural launch of NASA’s new super-heavy launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS).

EM-1 Orion heat shield component offloaded at Kennedy Space Center. Image Credit: NASA

EM-1 Orion heat shield component offloaded at Kennedy Space Center. Image Credit: NASA

The heat shield structure was built by Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colorado, and transported to KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) by NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft, where it was offloaded and transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building.

At the O&C, workers will apply an outer ablative covering of Avcoat – enabling the shield to withstand temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 °C) during the capsule’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere at the conclusion of the mission.

Scott Wilson, NASA’s manager of production operations for the Orion Program, explained, “We are very excited the EM-1 heat shield has arrived here at the Orion factory on the first leg of a journey that will ultimately take it beyond the Moon and back.”

Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin’s Orion KSC Operations senior manager, added, “Arrival of the EM-1 heat shield structure at Kennedy marks a significant milestone that gets us one step closer to achieving NASA’s ultimate goal, sending humans to Mars and returning them safely to Earth.”

To increase performance, the EM-1 Avcoat will be applied in blocks, as opposed to the filling of individual honeycomb cells to create the single, monolithic, ablative covering used on the 2014 EFT-1 Orion test flight.

Once applied, technicians will verify that the Avcoat blocks are properly bonded to the underlying structure, and then attach the structure to the capsule next year.


Video courtesy of NASA Kennedy




Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

Reader Comments

So this is the new kind of heat shield which was NOT tested on the Delta IV Heavy Orion Earth reentry flight two years ago? I suppose costs are so huge by now that it doesn’t matter wasting the world’s most expensive launcher, the DIVH, on testing stuff not intended to fly.

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