Spaceflight Insider

Orion update: progress and setbacks in February 2017

Orion update: Vehicle Assembly Building platform A-north installation

High up in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an overhead crane lowers the final work platform, A north, into place for installation in High Bay 3 on Jan. 12. The platform is being installed and secured on its rail beam high up on the north wall of the high bay. The installation of the final topmost level completes the 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platform halves altogether, that will surround NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft and allow access during processing for missions, including the first uncrewed flight test of Orion atop the SLS rocket. Photo & Caption Credit: Frank Michaux / NASA

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Hensel Phelps Construction Co. successfully completed the modifications to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in early February, making room for the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

KSC needed to remove the old space shuttle hardware from the VAB in order to make room for the 10 new levels of work platforms. These multi-level work platforms will allow the large portions of the SLS rocket to be integrated and stacked with ease in High Bay 3 (HB3).

Orion update: Vehicle Assembly Building platform A-north with the American flag

The American flag can be seen hanging from the final work platform, A north, as the platform is lifted up by crane from the transfer aisle in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo & Caption Credit: Frank Michaux / NASA

During the renovation to HB3, High Bay 2 (HB2) also underwent minor renovations for housing commercial rockets in the future. KSC has completed a major milestone that not only progresses deep space travel but also allows the space center to assert itself as a future spaceport.

As progress continues to be made to accommodate the SLS rocket at KSC, the auxiliary engines for Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) completed successful hot-fire testing in February. Aerojet Rocketdyne has been assisting Lockheed Martin in refurbishing the rockets used during the Space Shuttle program.

The eight auxiliary engines, originally the Orbital Maneuvering Subsystem (OMS) engines from the shuttles, are part of Rocketdyne’s R-4D design which has compiled a 100 percent mission success record over the years. Rocketdyne is also supplying the 12 monopropellant engines for the Orion crew module and the jettison motor for the launch abort system.

By completing a successful test-fire, the Orion program is one step closer to achieving deep space travel.

Once the Orion capsule is successfully launched aboard the SLS for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), Israel’s StemRad will be performing product testing as Orion completes a lunar flyby. Developed under CEO Oren Milstein, the AstroRad Radiation Shield is a multi-layered shield for astronauts that accurately cover important organs in the human body.

During EM-1, StemRad will have two “phantom” torso dummies aboard, one wearing the AstroRad Radiation Shield while the other is unprotected. The torso dummies will monitor the radiation absorption experienced during the flyby and will be analyzed once returned to Earth.

StemRad is no stranger to radiation shielding technology, producing a belt that protects workers from harmful gamma ray radiation as a result of nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Since most severe cases of death due to radiation exposure is caused by bone marrow failure, StemRad aimed to find a way to protect bone marrow. By layering protective materials over the pelvis where bone marrow stem cells are located, it allows for damaged bone marrow to be rejuvenated by the shielded stem cells after an exposure.

Before any product tests can be confirmed aboard the Orion capsule for EM-1, NASA needs to re-examine the feasibility of making the Orion capsule a multi-purpose crew vehicle. A NASA authorization bill – passed unanimously by the Senate on February 17 – requires NASA to confirm that the Orion capsule has the capabilities of delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), if other vehicles are unable to execute those functions, along with being a safe deep space crew vehicle.

Following the passing of the authorization bill, NASA proposed submitting a report to assess the feasibility of sending a crew in the Orion capsule for EM-1. A crewed Orion mission was not scheduled to take place until 2021 with Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2).

However, the Trump administration asked NASA to advance the crewed mission to take place on EM-1. This would cause the maiden launch of the Orion capsule aboard the SLS to be postponed until beyond 2019 and require additional funding. The official NASA reports for the multi-purpose crew vehicle re-examination and the crewed EM-1 assessment are due by mid-April and early spring, respectively. Until then, EM-1 remains scheduled to launch, with no crew, in late 2018.  

Lastly, on February 27, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which will be used as a second stage on the debut flight of NASA’s SLS rocket, was sent by barge to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Operation Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Video Courtesy of NASA Kennedy



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.

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