Spaceflight Insider

Capsule for first Orion spacecraft designed to carry crew built and delivered to KSC

NASA and Lockheed Martin are preparing for the first crewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft, Exploration Mission 2, slated for April of 2023. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA and Lockheed Martin are preparing for the first crewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft, Exploration Mission 2, slated for April of 2023. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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.

Infographic detailing the Orion spacecraft's components. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Infographic detailing the Orion spacecraft’s components. Image Credit: 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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Clive Bashford

‘3 Main parachutes, each 7 feet in diameter’

These particular parachutes portrayed in the infographuc were designed by Congress as as cost-cutting measure, at an expense of $300 million to the taxpayers. The infographic says the parachutes will provide for a safe landing; who would dare dispute such authority.

James Lunar Miner

“EM-2 is now a plan to send a crew of 4 in a lunar flyby mission, one which could last some 21 days.”
– Jason Rhian


We really need some landers, Lunar rovers, and the Gateway Spaceship with its cost effective and highly propellant efficient 2,600 Isp electric propulsion system.

“Hall thrusters, a type of ion thruster, trap electrons in a magnetic field and use them to ionize the onboard propellant (typically xenon), accelerating them outward to produce thrust, according to NASA. Overall, these engines use 10 times less propellant than traditional chemical rockets.”

And, “‘By staying on the cutting edge of propulsion technology, we have positioned ourselves for a major role not only in getting back to the Moon, but also in any future initiative to send people to Mars,’ said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president, in a company statement.”

From: “Aerojet Rocketdyne demonstrates electric propulsion capabilities for future deep space missions”
By Derek Richardson August 29, 2018

Maybe the time is finally over of our leaders sitting on their hands and spouting endless partisan cult nonsense about the wonderful glory of propellant inefficient, Ozone Layer destroying, and low 380 Isp methane rocket engine enabled ‘Mars Colonies Soon’.

Christopher Moore.

Its taken us along time to get back to the moon. I understand the ISS was also used to see the effects of long term space duration on the human body. I hope it has set us up well for the development of lunar landers for long term stays on the moon and for the 6 months travel time to mars. … I do like the plans for Mars travel by SpaceX but i am a bit doubtful that this rely will occur in the next 10 years let alone 2024 as was stated. Go NASA.

James Lunar Miner

Various efficient electric propulsion systems, with a high 2,600 to 14,000+ Isp, are space transportation game changers that can enable our various spacecraft to cost effectively move lots of payloads from LEO to low Lunar orbit while using very little propellant.

If we are going to efficiently build mining bases on the Moon, asteroids, and Mars, we’ll probably need lots of electric propulsion system powered reusable space tugs.

“By 2005, Boeing was offering a Xenon Electrostatic ion thruster System (XIPS) option for the 702 satellite system.[14] XIPS is 10 times more efficient than conventional liquid-fuel systems. On a XIPS equipped 702 satellite, four 25 cm (9.8 in) thrusters provide economical station keeping, needing only 5 kg (11 lb) of fuel per year, ‘a fraction of what bipropellant or arcjet systems consume’.[14] An XIPS-equipped satellite can be used for final orbit insertion, conserving even more payload mass, as compared to using a traditional on-board liquid apogee engine.[14][15]”

From: “Boeing 702” Wikipedia

Are we eventually going to use large, powerful, and super propellant efficient electric propulsion system powered space tugs to take Orion spaceships from the Gateway Spaceship, that could be in various high Lunar or Earth orbits, ‘down’ to a low Lunar orbit and later take that same Orion spacecraft back ‘up’ to the Gateway Spaceship?

Would home basing such high 2,600 to 14,000+ Isp electric propulsion system powered space tugs at an enlarged International Space Station, and at the Gateway Spaceship, be quite useful?

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *