The Exploration Test Flight (EFT-1) Orion has received its hatch door panel on one of the cone longerons, as welding of the test vehicle structure continues at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans. Meanwhile, another Orion – this time kitted out with a Launch Abort System (LAS) is moving from acoustic to modal testing at Lockheed Martin in Denver.
EFT-1 Orion Construction Update:
Scheduled to be the first Orion to fly into space, EFT-1 spacecraft is taking shape at MAF, as engineers weld the panels of the cone section together.
The first welds – marking the start of construction efforts on the EFT-1 Orion – were completed in September, using an innovative new friction stir welding process, developed especially for Orion construction.
This new approach is proving to be a learning curve, as seen this month, when welding was put on hold due to some out-of-family observations on the composite panels – as much as this was not related to the welding operation itself.
“The Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) hardware processing continues to uncover new technical issues. The composite panels being fabricated are experiencing a “curling” effect. Some modifications to the process have been implemented, while analysis is ongoing to expand the requirements for flatness,” noted information in L2’s Orion production update section.
“The EFT-1 flight tunnel post-fabrication material analysis is indicated reduced material properties. A change in the rib height to stiffen the tunnel is in work.
“The pathfinder tunnel to forward bulkhead weld NDE (Non Destructive Evaluation) passed with no issues. However, when cutouts were made (for analysis) cracks in the weld were created. Analysis is ongoing at this time, and further welding is on hold.”
This issue appears to have been resolved, as the update notes which followed confirmed the continuation of welding operations, as the milestone of the hatch becoming part of the vehicle was reached.
“Successful Weld of the Hatch Panel: At the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, the build-up of the EFT-1 flight vehicle continued with the prepping, tack welding and final welding of the cone hatch panel to Longeron #6,” added the notes for the second week in November.
“The next scheduled weld to take place will be Cone Panel D to Longeron #4.”
The notes added that the fabrication of the inboard panel #3 was also completed, and is currently being tested. This is one of the Service Module panels which will be assembled at KSC.
“EFT-1 Service Module Inboard Panel #3 started Non-Destructive Evaluations and was placed in the test tool at the Michoud Assembly Facility.”
While no humans will ride on the crew-capable EFT-1 spacecraft, access to the inside of the vehicle will be important throughout the flow. However, it is unlikely to match the pre-launch procedures which will be seen ahead of its ride with the Space Launch System (SLS), given EFT-1 involves the use of a Delta IV-Heavy launch vehicle.
This test flight will launch from Cape Canaveral, which will result in access to Orion being lost when the Mobile Service Tower (MST) retracts several hours ahead of launch.
SLS/Orion launches will take place from Pad 39B, which will have access to the vehicle until the final few minutes of the countdown – as much as the pad will be clear several hours beforehand, bar an emergency – via the Mobile Launcher (ML), which is set to undergo a test rollout this week.
As noted by this site last week, EFT-1 was officially approved by NASA this month, as much as the subsequent release of confirmation by the Agency opted to note a 2014 launch date.
Notes on L2’s EFT-1 section did point towards this possibility, as much as the Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) had aligned to a October 2013 launch date target, per Lockheed Martin’s contract for the EFT-1 launch date.
However, it was noted at that time that MPCV teams outside of JSC were speaking of December, 2013, and a likely slip into 2014.
There hasn’t been an official reason for the decision to release a 2014 date, although it can be assumed such a date does remove some of the pressure of having to inform the media of slipping launch dates, as was seen with the last major test of new vehicle hardware – namely the Ares I-X test flight. The early 2014 date is understood to be relatively achievable.
EFT-1 will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere on what is a multi-hour test into critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities for Orion.
“The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit,” noted Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier on NASA’s official release on the test flight’s confirmation.
“This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive.”
Orion’s EFT-1 flight will also involve a Delta IV-H Upper Stage, which is also involved in the opening Space Launch System (SLS) configurations for Orion’s debut runs to the Moon, which start in 2017.
“President Obama and Congress have laid out an ambitious space exploration plan, and NASA is moving out quickly to implement it,” NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver added. “This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon.”
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Orion GTA Testing Update:
All Orion testing at Lockheed Martin’s Denver base is proceeding to plan, as their vehicle configuration provides a much clearer overview of how Orion will look when sat on top of the SLS.
As much as the Service Module (SM) design is still undergoing evaluation – which includes discussions about utilizing hardware from the European Space Agency’s ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) – the test vehicle includes an Orion Ground Test Article (GTA), in a Launch Abort Vehicle (LAV) configuration, with installed ogives and a mock SM.
“Production: The GTA Acoustic Test Case 3 LAV configuration with fillets and ogives installed and SM Closeout assembled was completed at Lockheed-Martin’s Reverberant Acoustic Lab (RAL) at Denver,” noted information in L2’s Orion production update section.
“Three test runs were performed at -9dB, -3dB and 0dB (149.1 dB) that represent the nominal launch acoustic environment. All data was reviewed with nominal performance. There will be much future model correlation work focused on the understanding of these three interfaces.”
This marked the completion of acoustic testing on the various configurations involving the Orion GTA, allowing the hardware elements to move into the next phase, known as Modal Testing – which includes vibration tests.
“The Loads & Dynamics team gave an OK to break configuration to re-configure for Modal Testing which is scheduled to start in mid November,” added the notes.
“GTA moved to High Bay. The Crew Module/Launch Abort System Ground Test Vehicle stack was moved from the test chamber to the high bay floor in order to changeover from the acoustic test configuration to the modal test configuration. Modal testing is set to begin on November 14.”
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