NASA managers “serious” about ATV role as Orion Service Module

by Chris Bergin

Orion managers are becoming more interested in the idea of the European Space Agency (ESA) taking over a role in NASA’s exploration future. Adhering to the international cooperation angle for the Agency’s future, managers have told their teams they are “serious” about ESA building the Service Module (SM) for Orion, via Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) hardware.

Orion and ESA:

It’s no secret that NASA and ESA have been talking about a European role with Orion, after Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier was quoted (by Aviation Week) at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) saying that the ATV could transfer from ISS resupply ops into the Orion role.

Such a deal would build on current agreements with ESA, which calls for a number of ATVs to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), as part of their role with the orbital outpost.

Internally, meetings on this subject are starting to involve Orion teams, via strategy meetings relating to development roadmaps and exploration mission content.

“Met with HEOMD AA/W. Gersteinmaier and the Director, Exploration Systems Development (ESD) on MPCV strategy,” noted an Orion (MPCV) memo (L2). “Talking with ESA about potential future partnerships. ESA in for discussions on possible collaborations based on ATV technology.”

The ATV – three times the size of the Russian Progress resupply vehicle – was built with a human rating role in mind from the onset. However, these ranged from a mini space station – involving the mating of two or more ATVs, through to a crewed version of the Cargo Ascent and Return Vehicle (CARV) variant of the ATV.

Built by EADS Astrium, two ATVs have successfully visited the ISS, with three more set to launch as part of the ISS contract. Any potential change of direction for ATV’s evolvability into an Orion role as the Service Module would likely come after 2015. However, a decision on moving forward with this option will come much sooner.

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“(Orion manager) Mark Geyer and MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) are serious about getting ESA to build the Orion Service Module,” added Orion memo notes last week (L2). “There will be an SR (Systems Review) in December and a decision will be made in early spring.”

Orion Elsewhere:

The first real test of Orion will come at the end of 2013, when it’s launched by a Delta IV-Heavy on a multi-hour orbital test. This test was known as the Orion Flight Test (OFT-1).

However, as is commonplace for NASA, the name of this test has changed into the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), as much as the entire mission content remains unchanged.

Orion – which will be in a “crew capable” vehicle configuration, as much as it’ll be unmanned – will still ride on a Delta IV-H Upper Stage during the orbital flight, testing all systems through to entry and splashdown.

The test will also be a joint ops mission, carried out by the Orion contractor Lockheed Martin and NASA’s Mission Operations Directorate (MOD). As such, meetings are continuing to set up the flight operation procedures between the two teams.

“Flight Test and Mission Ops is setting up a Joint Program Control Board and the Flight Ops Panel will eventually be charted under this board,” added Orion notes (L2). “The charter for the (test) Flight Ops Panel will stay the same and will be co-chaired with Lockheed.

“The Orion project has requested MOD Flight Ops support for their flight software validation activities. (Management) is looking to make sure that this is in our current budget, and are awaiting more details.”

While the EFT-1 Orion continues construction at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, major testing is being carried out at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Denver.

These tests are focusing on the acoustics of Orion in several configurations – including with the Launch Abort System (LAS), a stack known as the Launch Abort Vehicle (LAV).

“Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)/Orion Acoustics Testing: NASA Flight Structures and Thermal Protection Systems (NE-M5) branch supported another round of MPCV acoustics testing at the Lockheed Martin Denver facilities,” added Orion status notes.

“The two configurations (2 and 2a) tested were with the LAV fillets and ogive panels installed. In the first test configuration (2) ogive panels were preloaded to simulate the launch configuration using bumpers that are extended from the ogive panels to the backshells. These bumpers provide circumferential hard points for load transfer from the ogive panel to the backshells.

“The second test configuration (2a) is with the bumpers fully retracted allowing only the circumferential bulb seals to transfer the vibro-acoustic loads into the backshells. Retracting the bumpers is intended to simulate a flight condition of differential pressure loading on the ogives during ascent unloading the bumpers on one side of the LAV. The loads and dynamics team is reviewing the data and performing model correlations.”

Ironically, given the aforementioned notes on the potential role of ESA’s ATV as the Service Module, Lockheed Martin testing will next move on to an Orion which involves the full stack of the LAS on top and a “simulated” Service Module underneath.

“The next acoustics test configuration (3) is scheduled for late October and adds a simulated service module assembly beneath the LAV assembly.”

(Images: Via L2 content and NASA. This article was collated from L2′s new Orion and Future Spacecraft specific L2 section, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal updates on Orion and other future spacecraft.

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