Year In Review: What You Should Know About Orion

Orion will carry intrepid explorers on bold, new missions into deep space – and eventually, Mars. But before NASA can take the Next Giant Leap and send astronauts to the Red Planet, there’s much work to be done right here on Earth.

2016 was an intense year, with a flurry of activity throughout every corner of the Orion program. Across the country, NASA, Lockheed Martin, hundreds of suppliers and small businesses have been simultaneously designing, building and testing four different spacecraft.

EFT-1: Propulsion components flown on Orion during Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), a high-orbital test flight in 2014, have been removed from the crew module for testing in extreme environments.

“We’re identifying opportunities to reuse parts flown on the interior of the spacecraft to lower overall costs,” said Jim Bray, Lockheed Martin Orion crew module director. “Extreme testing of used parts will help us determine what we’d consider safe to reuse and fly on crewed flights.”

Once engineers completed the removal of all necessary parts, the EFT-1 crew module was relocated to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center for millions of people to see.

EM-1: The pressure vessel for Orion’s first integrated flight with the Space Launch System, Exploration Mission-1, is currently inside a clean room at the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Facility in Florida. Teams are outfitting the structure with fluid systems for propulsion and environmental controls. Once those systems are fully integrated and tested, teams will install electronic systems like avionics, wiring and computers.

STA: The Structural Test Article (STA) is a ground test article used to prove Orion’s design against extreme temperatures and flight loads.

“Nothing can fly a crew in space without first being tested to its limits,” said Bray. “Qualification tests put Orion through very severe flight conditions and help us confirm the design’s margin of safety.”

The STA is currently being built inside the O&C.

EM-2: The Orion team is also stocking the shelves with hardware needed for Exploration Mission-2, Orion’s first crewed flight. The Avionics, Power and Wiring team has already received mission components, and test hardware for the Environmental Control and Life Support System designs are due to begin ground based testing in early 2017.  

Orion Moon

Look Ahead

What’s to come in 2017, you ask? Be on the lookout for some exciting milestones next year:

  • The structural test article will undergo proof testing at the O&C in Florida before its shipment to Lockheed Martin’s Colorado facility for mechanical testing.
  • In order to verify the spacecraft can route power and send commands, the team will power on the EM-1 crew module and the crew module adapter for the first time.
  • The EM-1 European service module will arrive at the O&C and be mated to the crew module.
  • The integrated EM-1 service module and crew module stack will undergo integration testing and power on.
  • The Environmental Control and Life Support System will undergo ground based development testing at Johnson Space Flight Center.
  • Construction of the EM-2 structure will begin in Louisiana.

NASA and Lockheed Martin are approaching the end of Orion’s development phase, having successfully tackled many of the toughest engineering challenges associated with human exploration of deep space. As the team enters 2017, they remain on track for Exploration Mission-1 in 2018 and Exploration Mission-2, the first crewed flight, as early as 2021.