Preparations for Orion’s first journey into space are accelerating, as flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) fire up the former Shuttle Flight Control Room (FCR) for mission simulations, while Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) engineers finalize the vehicle’s baseline construction, ahead of shipping Orion to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for outfitting.
EFT-1 Vehicle Preparations:
The 2014 Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) is a required element of the Orion’s development roadmap, as the vehicle prepares for a life of deep space exploration.
Less than two years away from its flight atop of a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle, the actual Orion that will fly is deep into construction and will soon make the trip from the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for outfitting.
The work at MAF mainly revolves around the main welds on major hardware pieces on the crew module structure, such as the barrel and bulkhead, meaning the EFT-1 Orion is yet to look like the vehicle that will fly into space.
However, the welds are a major milestone in the new vehicle’s construction practises, not least because it was put together using the innovative self-reacting friction stir weld process created collaboratively by NASA and Lockheed Martin.
Updating the latest work completed on the EFT-1 Orion, the barrel-to-aft-bulkhead weld and the aft bulkhead cap weld have now been finalized. The team also started the non-destructive evaluation (NDE) process and preliminary visual inspections, so as to ensure there are no flaws in the vehicle’s structure.
The remaining welds to complete the crew module structure include the tunnel to forward bulkhead weld, the forward bulkhead to cone weld, and the final closeout weld joining the cone section to the barrel. This will complete MAF’s work on the vehicle, allowing for the shipping of the EFT-1 Orion to KSC in June.
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Once at KSC, Orion will take up residency inside the famous Operations and Checkout (O&C) building for final assembly and outfitting.
The vehicle will also meet its Pathfinder cousin, following its arrival from testing at Lockheed Martin’s Denver facility.
The pathfinder vehicle travelled more than 1,800 miles from Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility, where it successfully completed a series of rigorous acoustic, modal and vibration tests that simulated launch and spaceflight environments.
The ground test vehicle – or GTA (Ground Test Article) – will now be used for path finding operations at the O&C, in preparation for the Orion spaceflight test vehicle’s arrival this summer.
EFT-1 JSC Preparations:
Marking the national effort taking place in preparing for the EFT-1 flight, Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) teams are already conducting simulations and training exercises inside the Shuttle Flight Control Room (FCR) – the first operations-level work to take place inside the “White FCR” since the landing of Atlantis to conclude the final shuttle mission (STS-135) last year.
As previously reported, the test flight will be controlled by a joint NASA MOD and Lockheed Martin team, as the Delta IV Heavy – and the the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) – loft the Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, the furthest a vehicle – designed for human space travel – has gone into space since the Apollo era.
Orion will return home at a speed almost 5,000 miles per hour faster than that endured by the Space Shuttle orbiters, providing a crucial test of the vehicle’s Thermal Protection System (TPS) – critical data that will be fed into the milestone of Orion’s Critical Design Review (CDR), which is currently set for April, 2015.
ISS Ground Controller Bill Foster – who is involved with the EFT-1 preparations at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – recently updated the status of work taking place inside the FCR during an ISS Update segment on NASA TV.
“The room that we used to support shuttle from is primarily being used for testing, but it will come back into a mission support mode in 2014 when we do the EFT-1 flight,” noted Mr Foster. who’s GC role is also sometimes referred to as the “Gatekeeper” of mission control operations. “Right now we’re working with Lockheed Martin, who is the company building the Orion capsule and who are managing all of the flights for NASA.”
While the FCR will still have a similar appearance as it did during shuttle missions, the EFT-1 mission will be run via a different front end processor, requiring team members to acquaint themselves with the commercial application.
“We’re trying to do it at the lowest cost possible, because there’s not a lot of budget right now, so we’re going to use a lot of the same systems we used to support shuttle. However, we are using a commercial front end processor, a commercial application from Harris Corporation, called Comet,” added Mr Foster.
“One of the things the GC’s are doing is we’re trying to understand how to operate that, it’s different to what we’ve done in the past, so we’re holding weekly data flows in the White FCR, where we’re learning how to operate the system, how to flow data, how to run simulations.
“As we get a little closer to the mission we’re going to be doing end-to-end testing with an Orion test rig up in Denver and also with the Orion capsule when it moves to KSC. It’ll be in the O&C building for several months, so we’ll flow data between here and KSC.”
During this testing period, controllers in the FCR will be “building” their displays, in order to have the right suite of information on the vehicle’s status, ahead of the real mission.
Notably, views of the White FCR’s big displays at the front of the room have been showing EFT-1 style data content, although that is yet to be in sync with data from any real Orion hardware at this stage. Instead the data is being fed from a simulator built into the workstations, providing basic onboard status during different mission phases.
“We like to put that up (the EFT-1 graphics on the big screens) to give a bit of a flavor of what we’re doing,” added Mr Foster.
“The more familiar we are with what the mission profile is, the the better we are going to be to support it.”
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