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Orion service module completes critical design review

Orion service module test article

Engineers at NASA and ESA recently completed the critical design review for the Orion service module. Photo Credit: NASA

A joint critical design review (CDR) of the Orion service module was completed earlier this month by teams at both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The European-built module will provide power, propellant, and consumables for future crewed missions into deep space.

The review occurred on June 16 at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands. The purpose was to give engineers confidence the module’s design is mature enough to continue with fabrication, integration, and testing.

Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center have been putting a test article of the Orion service module through a number of tests over the last few months. Photo Credit: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have been putting a test article of the Orion service module through a number of tests over the last few months. Photo Credit: NASA

“The teams at NASA and ESA worked together successfully over the past few weeks to bring design decisions and required products to the CRD board,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a press release. “International collaboration is an important part of the effort NASA is leading to pioneer deep space.”

Other discussions during the CDR focused on the differences between the service module for the uncrewed Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) and missions that will carry crew in the early 2020s.

EM-1 will be the first deep-space mission of Orion, and the first to launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS).

According to NASA, no new major issues were identified during the review as teams worked together to develop a plan for work going forward in power management and propellant usage.

Present for the CDR were teams from NASA and ESA as well as their respective prime contractors: Lockheed Martin for the Orion capsule and Airbus for the service module.

“This was a tremendous effort on the part of the team from both sides of the Atlantic,” said Jame Free, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directory. “Anytime you do something for the first time you can run into challenges, but we have been working side-by-side with ESA and Airbus to make Orion integration go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.”

During the review, teams identified April 2017 as the goal for delivering the service module to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There the module will be integrated with Orion and the SLS.

This comes just over a month after engineers completed acoustic tests on a structural representation of the service module to ensure it could withstand the force and pressure from the sound SLS will emit as the whole stack leaves the launch pad and makes its way to space.

Between tests of the service module and the final test of the SLS’ five-segment solid rocket booster (SRB) earlier this week, components of EM-1 are in various stages of testing and production for flight. There are even three segments of the 10 required for EM-1 (five for each SRB) already loaded with propellant and are expected to be transported by rail from Utah to KSC in the Fall of next year.

Additionally, production for the Orion crew module is well underway at KSC with the pressure vessel of the capsule undergoing tests last month.

If everything goes according to plan, NASA hopes to fly EM-1, the first fully integrated test of all of SLS’s systems—the Orion capsule, service module, interim cryogenic propulsion stage, and booster—no later than November 2018.


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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