Heat Shield Designed to Protect Orion Ships to Kennedy Space Center

The Orion team at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company facility outside of Denver recently completed and shipped the heat shield structure for the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) spacecraft.

At 16.5 feet in diameter, the heat shield for Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) was the largest composite heat shield ever built. And now, the team has completed the second.

Among members of the heat shield manufacturing team, enthusiasm and excitement was high.

“Working on the Orion heat shields is my favorite project,” said James Beffel, a machinist in the Prototype Development Center where the heat shield and other spacecraft structures are machined. “It’s not just the size and complexity, but the Orion mission as a whole. It’s an emotional motivator to know that I helped build a critical part of these missions that are redefining human spaceflight.”

“I’ve only been with Lockheed Martin for about a year-and-a-half, and this is my first build of this magnitude in size and logistics,” said Matt Rieck, a manufacturing engineer. “I came from the missile defense world, so this is the first thing I’ve worked on that I want to see fly.”

Orion Heat Shield

Planning for a heat shield build of this complexity can begin up to a year in advance of production. Matt is already working on capturing lessons learned and beginning to coordinate the logistics for a static test article build, which will be the model for the Exploration Mission-2 heat shield.

Over the next six months, the team at Kennedy Space Center will install Avcoat blocks, flight instrumentation and multi-layer insulation onto the heat shield. Once those steps are complete, the new, lighter-weight heat shield be installed onto Orion’s crew module—one of the program’s major assembly milestones ahead of flight.

Orion’s heat shield will protect the spacecraft during the entire EM-1 mission which includes about three weeks in deep space, over 4500°F re-entry temperatures and a safe splashdown in the ocean.