NASA Looks Ahead to Major Milestones for Orion Program

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — From the beginning of assembly work on the Orion crew module at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to testing a range of the spacecraft systems, engineers made headway in 2016 in advance of the spacecraft’s 2018 mission beyond the moon. A look at the important milestones that lie ahead in the next year give a glimpse into how NASA is pressing ahead to develop, build, test and fly the spacecraft that will enable human missions far into deep space.

Orion Power On

The NASA and Lockheed Martin team at Kennedy spent much of 2016 integrating structural elements into the spacecraft, and then began incorporating critical systems such as avionics components and propulsion tubing. In the spring of 2017, computers in the Orion crew module for the spacecraft’s first mission with NASA’s Space Launch System will be turned on for the first time to verify the spacecraft can route power and send commands. It’s an essential integrated test that will verify Orion’s systems are connected and responding as planned.

Service Module Arrival Stateside

The European-built service module for Orion, which will propel and power it in space, is an essential component of the spacecraft and extends NASA’s international collaboration with ESA in human spaceflight into deep space. The service module for Orion’s upcoming flight will be shipped to Kennedy, after structural and systems work is completed at the facility of ESA contractor Airbus Defence & Space in Bremen, Germany.

Stacking Up

Orion’s heat shield will be secured onto the crew module in the summer, and the crew and service modules will subsequently be stacked together. Both operations are essential steps to be completed ahead of the early 2018 shipment of the entire stack to NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, where the craft will be put through a series of tests to ensure it is ready for the dynamics of launch and the harsh environment of deep space flight.

Construction Begins on First Orion for Crew

While the Orion outfitting and assembly process for the first mission of the spacecraft atop the Space Launch System rocket continues in 2017, construction will also begin on the vehicle for the first Orion flight with astronauts that will fly as early as 2021. The first panels of the crew module pressure vessel for that mission are expected to arrive at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in the spring, when weld operations will begin.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Testing on the ground plays a vital role in ensuring Orion is fit enough for what it will face in space, and a variety of tests are planned for the coming year. A structural test article will move to Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver for a variety of mechanism separation, acoustic and pressure testing. Several parachute tests will take place in the skies above the Arizona desert to ensure Orion is ready to bring home crew, and a variety of human factors testing such as legibility tests, will help evaluate how the crew interacts with the spacecraft.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I have to admit: I am trusting NASA more as SpaceX in respect of achieving required very reliability and safety levels for manned S/C design and construction. However, there are the huge cost differences and all the political pork involved, which are not acceptable.

  • As a patriotic American I for one am extremely proud of our hyper expensive eensy teensy teeny tiny never ending capsule to nowhere program, and our patriotic NASA astronaut heroes who are training endlessly to fly nowhere in it.

  • Kapitalist

    It is amazing to me how NASA/ULA emphasizes how impractical, difficult, expensive and risky it is to use the Orion (and the SLS). Those are all negative properties, not something to make PR about. If I were them, I would promote its abilities and purposes instead.

  • Snofru Chufu

    It is correct what you state, even if both do not offen share same view.

  • Snofru Chufu

    However, the technical details of the S/C looks more sophisticated and of higher qualilty as Dragon V1 S/C for example, which looks like a bit as made by plumber.

  • windbourne

    they are required to be honest about it, and not just lie.

  • windbourne

    yeah, yeah.
    The fact is, that SpaceX and Bigelow will be pushing space systems over the next 2 years.
    I would be shocked if Trump does not have NASA help new private space more as opposed to sending SLS to the moon.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Since neither has flown even a test flight yet, it’s hard to say, honestly.

    But on current timelines, Orion’s first crewed flight happens in the 2022-23 timeframe. By that point, Dragon v2 could have as many as 15-20 crewed flights under its belt. And there’s nothing like actual flight experience to learn about how well your system really works. Or doesn’t.

  • Keeping SLS and Orion has been well into the binary decision regime for a long time. Helping commercial is not binary. They will still be there whether they are helped or hindered or not.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    After a decade in development, with about 8 more years to go, $11B to date and a projected $20B total through 2023 (not including the cost of each unit or the cost of the Service Module) I would seriously hope that it at least looks better on paper.

  • Snofru Chufu

    “And there’s nothing like actual flight experience to learn about how well your system really works. Or doesn’t.”

    That is true!

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    What about a personal impression in comparison to Dragon V2?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yeah it should be fine, unless they need to abort on the way to orbit after the escape tower is jettisoned.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I did not see/knew same detailness from Dragon V2 as from Orion or existing Dragon V1, but this may be my fault.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I am aware of Orion’s different short-comings as a deep-space S/C. Also the small service module is in adequate for Moon missions for example. I refered at first to my visual impression of quality/technical sophistication.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Trump will only assist commercial space if there’s money in it for himself – after all he is the ultimate swamp monster.

    Slagging off Boeing and LM was probably just a prelude to tapping them for bribes in return for contracts. So perhaps the cash and the ego of moon landings might well sway the decision.