Capsule for first Orion spacecraft designed to carry crew built and delivered to KSC
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA and Lockheed Martin are preparing for the first crewed flight of the agency’s “exploration-class” spacecraft, Orion, on a mission that should see astronauts return to a trajectory their colleagues have not ventured to in more than 45 years. This latest milestone saw components that will comprise the spacecraft assembled and shipped to Kennedy Space Center.
With the Moon reestablished as the U.S. Space Agency’s first target for crewed deep space exploration efforts, the mandate for Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2) can be considered a “pathfinder” in terms of continuing the trail blazed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the 10 other Moonwalkers who made history under NASA’s Apollo Program.
If everything goes according to plan, EM-2 will be the first flight of a crewed Orion spacecraft. Before that can happen, NASA wants to demonstrate that the duo can perform as advertised during an uncrewed mission. Enter EM-1.
Exploration Mission 1 is being readied for a June 2020 launch date. On July 25 of this year (2018), the heat shield for the uncrewed Orion that is slated to conduct this mission was installed.
“Installation of the EM-1 crew module heat shield is a significant milestone representing the beginning of closing out the crew module assembly,” said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Orion senior manager for KSC Operations. “When the heat shield is installed, access to components becomes more difficult, and in some cases there is no more access. So by installing the heat shield you are declaring that a certain percentage of the spacecraft is finished.”
While the EM-1 Orion is coming together, Lockheed Martin is not slowing in its efforts to establish the infrastructure NASA has been developing to reignite the agency’s deep space ambitions. Commonality is part of the strategy the aerospace titan is using to develop a pipeline of these new spacecraft.
“The EM-1 and EM-2 crew modules are very similar in design, but we’ve made a lot of improvements since we built EM-1, including processes, scheduling, and supply chain, all contributing to a lower cost and faster manufacturing,” said Paul Anderson, director of Orion EM-2 production at Lockheed Martin.
Over the course of the past seven months, EM-2 Orion’s capsule structure and its pressure vessel were integrated by engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility located in Louisiana and by engineers with Lockheed Martin.
“It’s great to see the EM-2 capsule arrive just as we are completing the final assembly of the EM-1 crew module,” said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion. “We’ve learned a lot building the previous pressure vessels and spacecraft and the EM-2 spacecraft will be the most capable, cost-effective and efficient one we’ve built.”
The transfer of the vehicle marks the latest milestone in a development and production process that has that has been ongoing for about 14 years. If everything goes according to what NASA and its family of contractors have been working toward, it could see the start of a new era of space exploration.
“We’re all taking extra care with this build and assembly, knowing that this spaceship is going to take astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in four decades,” said Matt Wallo, senior manager of Lockheed Martin Orion Production at Michoud. “It’s amazing to think that, one day soon, the crew will watch the Sun rise over the lunar horizon through the windows of this pressure vessel. We’re all humbled and proud to be doing our part for the future of exploration.”
The capsule was shipped to KSC and arrived at the center on Friday, Aug. 24 where it was transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. The assembly and integration of the EM-2 crew module should get underway shortly.
Exploration Mission 2 was originally scheduled to transport a crew to either an asteroid or part of an asteroid that had been towed into lunar orbit by an earlier automated mission (what had been dubbed the Asteroid Redirect Mission). Since the cancellation of this mission’s flight plan, NASA has re-tasked the mission for a far more lofty goal – the Moon itself. EM-2 is now a plan to send a crew of 4 in a lunar flyby mission, one which could last some 21 days.
“The completion of the EM-2 crew module pressure vessel is the result of the detailed operations of welding and mechanical assembly of many components over roughly a 11 month time frame beginning in October of last year when the tunnel section was delivered. Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians worked in a painstaking manner with pride to ensure a high quality pressure vessel, knowing that this vehicle will soon carry astronauts,” Wallo told SpaceFlight Insider. “Preparations for shipment of the finished article began roughly two weeks before shipment with final touch-up, cleaning and inspections followed by packaging, and loading into the transport fixture used for shipment to the Kennedy Space Center.”
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, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.