Spaceflight Insider

Orion’s Critical Design Review an important milestone toward Exploration Mission-1

Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit above Moon on Exploration Mission 1. NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

After the completion of Orion’s Critical Design Review (CDR) in October, the spacecraft is one important step closer toward the upcoming Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), scheduled to take place in 2018. It means that Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor building Orion, can now focus on full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and tests of the spacecraft.

“It means that the program is on track to complete the spacecraft’s development to meet NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 performance requirements,” Allison Rakes, Lockheed Martin spokesperson, told

NASA Space Launch System SLS Orion Marshall Space Flight Center Boeing Orbital ATK Lockheed Martin NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

NASA hopes to conduct the first uncrewed flight of SLS as early as 2018. Image Credit: NASA

The EM-1 flight will see Orion spacecraft being launched by NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) for the first time. The mission will last 20 days. Orion will be sent into a lunar distant retrograde orbit. It is a wide orbit around the Moon, farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. EM-1 will clear the path for future crewed Orion missions.

The CDR included a review of common aspects of the spacecraft for EM-1 such as the spacecraft’s structures, pyrotechnics, launch abort system, guidance, navigation and control, and software, among many other elements. The evaluation lasted 10 weeks.

“Over about three months, Orion’s products are reviewed, actions are written, and the spacecraft’s design is scrutinized in detail to ensure it meets requirements and the system is ready for assembly and test. The CDR process has approximately a dozen and a half reviews comprising all of the sub-systems and functional areas of the spacecraft,” Rakes revealed.

The complete CDR process will conclude after the European Service Module CDR and a presentation to the NASA Agency Program Management Council in the spring. Lockheed Martin is currently wrapping up a very busy year of crucial activities related to Orion’s development.

“This year we’re doing design analysis and reviews, building and welding primary structures, performing baseline cost and schedule assessments, and testing for integration with the SLS rocket and the European Service Module,” Rakes said.

Meanwhile, engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans continue to weld together the primary structure of the Orion spacecraft. In October, technicians joined the spacecraft’s barrel section, which is the round middle part of the spacecraft, to the aft bulkhead, which is the bottom portion of the crew module.

The European Service Module arrived was delivered to the U.S. on Nov. 9 and is ready for testing. During the missions, it will be placed below Orion’s crew capsule and will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, and water and air for four astronauts.

In early 2016, Orion’s crew module pressure vessel will be shipped to the Operations and Checkout Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where it will undergo final assembly, integration, and testing in order to prepare for the EM-1 flight.

Systems that will be unique to the EM-2 manned flight will be addressed at a later CDR for the mission scheduled for the fall of 2017.

“There will be systems that are unique to the EM-2 spacecraft, such as crew displays and the Environmental Control and Life Support System,” Rakes said.

The EM-2 flight is currently planned for no earlier than 2021.



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

Reader Comments

Go Orion!

Looking forward to the Orion test flight in 2018. I have been a space enthusiast since the Apollo moon days. It’s been a long time coming, but, let’s get on with BEO exploration/exploitation.

Is possible for Orion to be launched on a Falcon Heavy 1.2FT? Will the Falcon Heavy FT have enough Delta V to send the Orion to the Moon? Would appreciate some feedback. Thanks…

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