Orion update for January 2017
Before the end of 2016, progress on NASA’s Orion capsule for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) took some significant leaps forward. As the new year takes its first steps, the space agency and prime contractor working on Orion, Lockheed Martin, are looking to send a crew-rated spacecraft further than has ever been attempted before.
In mid-November of last year, the heat shield underwent rigorous new testing to ensure. As part of the heat shield system, an Ocean Optics STS spectrometer will gather data to assess how the shield is reacting to the hot gasses produced as the capsule descends through Earth’s dense atmosphere.
The spectrometer should allow NASA to improve their radiation heating models in terms of the vehicle’s Thermal Protection Systems (TPS). Currently, the spectrometer is undergoing heat testing to determine how the instrument reacts to temperature changes. In spring (of 2017), the spectrometer will begin flight certification testing.
This past November, the Orion crew module adapter (CMA) was situated on a test stand and moved into a temporary clean room at Kennedy Space Center. The CMA will connect the Orion capsule to the service module that is being built by the European Space Agency (ESA). As it is currently scheduled, the CMA will be integrated with propellant, environmental, and life support systems over the next few months.
Along with the CMA, the Orion structural test article (STA) arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is expected to undergo mechanical assembly over the next few months before being shipped to Lockheed Martin in Colorado for further testing.
At the beginning of 2017, the Orion service module engine was delivered to Airbus Defense and Space in Germany to be integrated with the service module. The module engine, designed to steer Orion during EM-1, was refurbished from a former space shuttle maneuvering system.
Once completed, the ESA-built service module will boast 33 engines and thrusters with the main engine being a refurbished OMS (AJ10-190) Space Shuttle engine. The service module is expected to arrive at Kennedy Space Center once the engines have been integrated.
Looking ahead into 2017, the Orion capsule is expected to go online starting in the spring. For the first time since the beginning of the systems integration in 2016, the computers housed in the Orion crew module will be turned on to verify the module is able to route power and properly interpret commands.
By the summer of 2017, the heat shield will be integrated onto the crew module, allowing it to be stacked atop the service module. This integration point is critical and must be completed before the entirety of the Space Launch Systems rocket (SLS) arrives from NASA’s Plum Brook Station in 2018.
As 2017 progresses, construction on the next Orion crew module for the first crewed flight will begin, aiming for a launch sometime in the early 2020s. In the meantime, testing continues on all structures comprising the EM-1 Orion module and the core components needed for flight and additional data collection. Once the crew module, heat shield, and service module have been successfully integrated, the module will undergo final testing before being seated atop the SLS.
“2016 was an intense year with a flurry of activity throughout every corner of the Orion program,” Allison Miller, Lockheed Martin Orion spokesperson told SpaceFlight Insider. “This year will be no different as we continue to prepare for Exploration Mission-1 in 2018.”
Video Courtesy of NASA Johnson
Mackenzie Kane is currently working towards receiving her Bachelors degree in Planetary Sciences and Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology. For the past several years, Kane's area of active research has been with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope mission and its search for extrasolar planets. Kane has a deep love of learning about the mysteries that space holds through the ever-growing technology that is launched into orbit. My goal upon graduation is to continue writing about the exciting research and technology furthering our presence in space and delivering it to the public in easily accessible ways. Kane was accepted as the second intern from Florida Tech to write for SpaceFlight Insider and our outlet will now work to provide her with access and experience.