NASA’s EM-1 Orion powers up for the first time
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA and Lockheed Martin powered up the computer systems of the Orion spacecraft for the first time last week at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. The uncrewed spacecraft will fly atop the Space Launch System (SLS) on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) in 2019.
Let there be light
In an Aug. 6, 2017, interview with SpaceFlight Insider, NASA’s Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich said that all the spacecraft’s plumbing, propellant systems, life support systems, power, and secondary structure were installed. The power-up test marked the first time the vehicle management computers and the power and data units were installed on the crew module, loaded with flight software, and tested. This was the first step toward evaluating all of the crew module’s integrated systems.
Because the EM-1 mission will not carry astronauts on board, there will be no finger-activated electronic systems during the flight. However, the crewed version of the spacecraft will rely on many of the same avionics, plumbing, and life-support systems. The first mission atop the SLS will provide an opportunity to conduct a full-mission test of those systems without putting people at risk.
According to Lockheed Martin, the avionics suite comprises 55 components, which will be connected by nearly 400 cable harnesses and will be able to perform 480 million instructions per second. The entire system will be powered by the spacecraft’s four solar arrays, which can generate enough electricity to power eight three-bedroom homes (approximately 11 kilowatts). Over the course of the next two to three months, as each system is installed, functional testing will ensure that Orion is ready to be evaluated in a simulated space environment.
“The initial power-on procedure verified the health and status of Orion’s core computers and power and data units and marks the beginning of critical spacecraft subsystem tests to get us ready for flight,” Kirasich said in a NASA release. “Our test team, ground support equipment and flight systems all performed remarkably well during the test. This is a major milestone for Orion and for our long range deep space exploration plans.”
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.