Joint team structure recommended for Orion Test Flight (OTF-1) in 2013

by Chris Bergin

Planning for the launch of a Block I Orion via a Delta IV Heavy is continuing, with recommendations for a “Joint Test and Mission Operations Team” comprised of Lockheed Martin and NASA-Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) personnel for the test flight. Orion – also now known as Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) – is scheduled to be launched in July, 2013.

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Saved from President Obama’s FY2011 cull of the Constellation Program (CxP), Orion only had a role as a lifeboat on the International Space Station (ISS) to look forward to, prior to being realigned as to fulfilling its potential as a Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) vehicle.

While those missions are yet to be defined, it can be expected the Orion will be capable of visiting the ISS, Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and eventually Mars (and/or Phobos)

As such, the name “Orion” is likely to be dropped in future documentation, as NASA transitions from the defunct CxP into the programs which are being drawn up by bodies such as the HEFT (Human Exploration Framework Team).

This change of name was pre-empted in managerial notes over recent days, citing the “move” of Orion Project manager Mark Geyer to heading up the MPCV planning team.

“Transition of Orion to a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is allowed by / consistent with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act,” the managerial notes (L2) added. “Team is actively working with the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) on next steps.

“Mr Geyer is heading the MPCV planning team. Orion is considered the point of departure for planning a possible MPCV mission, including Mission Operations support and launch/entry suits.”

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NASA managers are also meeting with their Lockheed Martin colleagues this month to discuss the outlines of the opening Orion Test Flight (OTF-1), which is tracking a target launch date of July, 2013. The Block I Orion will be lofted on its debut flight by a Delta IV Heavy.

Part of the discussions continue to revolve around the responsibilities for the flight, with recommendations to utilize a “Joint Test and Mission Operations Team” which would consist of NASA MOD (Mission Operations Directorate) and Lockheed Martin personnel.

“Orion Flight Test -1 (OFT-1):  Orion Project/Mark Geyer is preparing to take a recommendation on how the OFT-1 mission will be supported from the development phase through the real-time test flight support operation and post test flight vehicle processing,” noted the OTF-1 notes (L2).

“The two options that are being assessed include having Lockheed Martin perform the entire test flight as a “turn-key” operation or implementing a more traditional support structure that includes MOD for the pre-flight testing support and full responsibility of the real-time test flight operations support from T-0 through splash down and post landing vehicle safing. 

“The Orion Project has been leading the effort to assess the two options and concluded that the preferred option would be to utilize a “Joint Test and Mission Operations Team” that is comprised of LM T&V (Test and Verification) personnel, LM Operations personnel and NASA-MOD personnel.

With the joint team recommendation accepted by Mr Geyer’s team, the proposal will be taken to NASA HQ for discussion in the upcoming days.

“(Mr) Geyer accepted the OFT-1 proposal that will utilize a blended team approach for support of the test flight. The team will be comprised of Lockheed Martin (LM) Test Engineers, LM Operations personnel and NASA Mission Operations personnel,” added an additional update (L2).

“The team approach will be utilized for all aspects of the test flight including subsystem and integrated testing as well as the flight execution. The team approach will also be utilized for the development of all products required for support of the mission (e.g. test scripts, test procedures, LCCs (Launch Commit Criteria), Flight Rules, timelines, etc.).”

For the interim, Lockheed Martin Operations and T&V members, along with NASA/Orion Ops personnel, are to develop the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to define the joint team support approach for the OFT-1 mission.

MOD Director Paul Hill is also expecting the joint team approach to be fully adopted, as noted during comments about MOD’s role with Orion/MPCV, during an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with – which will be published in its entirety on Tuesday.

“MOD’s role for Orion/MPCV is unchanged. Experienced MOD personnel remain engaged with the NASA and Lockheed team developing the spacecraft and associated operations. Our plan is to engage the MOD infrastructure and plan/train/fly community in preparing for and flying the test flight on whatever booster it rides to orbit on, including an EELV,” noted Mr Hill.

“I’d expect that a commercial EELV would be launched and monitored by the experienced commercial launch team. An MCC-Houston team would then be responsible for the spacecraft, team with the EELV provider on spacecraft related ops decisions during first stage, powered flight and have full responsibility through splashdown. 

“This arrangement would both benefit from MOD’s previous flight and Orion-development experience, and also provide a good pathfinder in developing MPCV mission systems and plan/train/fly products. MOD’s support to the test flight would fit within the cost required to prepare for the follow on MPCV missions with crews aboard.”

The capsule is expected to make its manned debut in either the 2016, or 2018 and/or 2019, depending on the availability of the Space Launch System (SLS).

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