Spaceflight Insider

Orion pressure vessel moved to test stand at KSC

Orion in the O & C

The EM-1 Orion pressure vessel is inside the Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center being readied to be mated to the test stand. Photo Credit: NASA

The Orion spacecraft scheduled to fly around the Moon in 2018 was moved to a test stand to assess the structural integrity of the vehicle’s underlying structure—the pressure vessel.

orion service module

The service module of Orion is being unpacked after arriving in Germany. Photo Credit: NASA

The Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) Orion was moved to the stand inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on April 21 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Teams at Lockheed Martin and NASA will evaluate the structural integrity of the pressure vessel. It is an important milestone on the path toward preparing the spacecraft for launch atop the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy-lift rocket in 2018.

EM-1 will be the first launch of an SLS and the second for the Orion spacecraft (the first was Exploration Flight Test 1 in December 2014).

If everything goes as planned, SLS will place the uncrewed capsule on a seven-day circumlunar trajectory and will test the fully integrated SLS-Orion system as well as validate the thermal protection system of the vehicle as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at speeds reaching an estimated 7 miles (11 kilometers) per second.

Throughout the United States and across the ocean, work is being done to prepare for this long-anticipated first flight of the SLS. Recently, at NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, engineers began testing a structural representation of the spacecraft’s service module with sound pressure and vibration.

Additionally, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, engineers prepared a representation of Orion for a series of water-impact tests to evaluate crew safety after returning to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California after the EM-1 flight as well as future additional flights with crew aboard.

Finally, the flight-ready Orion service module, which is being developed by the European Space Agency, was delivered by Thales Alenia Space to Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, Germany. Elements of the module will be integrated together there before being shipped to Florida to be assembled with the rest of the spacecraft. This is expected to take place sometime early next year.

Orion EM-1 Lift

Orion EM-1 is lifted and mated to the test stand for pressure checks inside the Operations and Checkout building. Photo Credit: NASA


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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