Orion processing heats up ahead of EFT-1 mission

by Chris Bergin

NASA’s first Orion to head into space is continuing to be pieced together, with a major milestone – involving the first flight ready heat shield – now complete. The largest composite heat shield ever built will protect Orion during its high velocity re-entry during Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1), which is just over 18 months away.

EFT-1 Hardware:

The EFT-1 Orion started to take shape inside the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) back in the middle of 2011, marking the first construction of a NASA spacecraft intended for humans since the assembly of Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1982.

Using an innovative new friction stir welding process – developed especially for Orion construction – the birth of the EFT-1 Orion enjoyed a happy childhood in New Orleans, all while providing an assembly template for future Orion spacecraft that will be put together at the facility made famous by its Shuttle External Tank production.

Transported to the Kennedy Space Center’s O&C (Operations and Checkout) building, contractor Lockheed Martin is now deep into outfitting work. The flow was slightly interrupted by some minor cracks found in the structure after pressure testing, which have been fixed with doublers.

The new spacecraft will soon come to life, as testing of the procedures that will be used for initial power-on during vehicle assembly, integration, and processing was completed at the Denver Integrated Test Lab.

Five procedures were successfully executed to configure ground test hardware, power the flight avionics on and off, and load data. The Integrated Test Lab is a high fidelity representation of the Orion spacecraft’s avionics and ground systems where the software and hardware are integrated and tested in support of design verification and operational processes.

This will also be a milestone for KSC, a center that has been without a powered-up crew spacecraft since all three of their Shuttle orbiters were powered down during their Transition and Retirement (T&R) flows.

EFT-1 SMWork is also proceeding on the assembly of the EFT-1 Service Module, with the second of six service module composite shear panels being installed with the four diamond panels in the Shear Web Assembly Tool.

All six service module forward wall panels have now been loaded, measured and drilled on the service module structure at KSC. Fastener installation on the EFT-1 Service Module Phased Array Mass Simulators has also been completed.

The final set of EFT-1 Service Module composite micro-meteoroid orbital debris panels – along with the test fixture – were recently delivered to Marshall Space Flight Center for testing.

Meanwhile, all of EFT-1 Service Module spacecraft adaptor jettison fairings have been installed in the assembly tool in preparation for work at Michoud.

EFT-1 Heat ShieldHowever, the biggest milestone of late has been the mating of the skin of Orion’s heat shield onto the titanium support skeleton at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility near Denver – which was also the site for a large amount of Orion testing on the Ground Test Article (GTA).

The heat shield is scheduled to ship to Textron in Wilmington sometime next month (March) for installation of its ablative protective coating.

The skin and skeleton will help give the spacecraft the strength to withstand its impact with the water’s surface on landing in the Pacific Ocean, and provide the structure for the AVCOAT coating that will protect the vehicle and its crew from the nearly 5,000-degree Fahrenheit temperatures that they would experience during a 27,000-mph return from Mars.

At five meters wide, it is the largest composite heat shield ever built.

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The heat shield design will be put to the test during EFT-1, providing crucial data ahead of Orion’s key Critical Design Review (CDR), that will follow the test flight in the middle of 2015.

Delta IV-H with Orion Wind Tunnel Test ModelEFT-1 Orion will launch atop of a Delta IV-Heavy in the summer of 2014. The ULA rocket will loft Orion on a several hour flight to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, prior to returning home at a speed almost 5,000 miles per hour faster than that endured by the Space Shuttle orbiters.

Wind tunnel testing of the EFT-1 launch vehicle configuration continues at Ames Research Center, aimed at defining the ascent aerodynamics of this new vehicle configuration.

Testing has been completed in the transonic 11-ft test section, providing data on aerodynamic characteristics in the flight regime at speeds below Mach 1.3.

The subscale model has now been installed in the 9×7-ft test section in order to gather data for the supersonic phase of flight. Force and moments testing was conducted this past week, and buffet testing is scheduled for March.

MSA STAEFT-1 will be the only time Orion will be carried uphill by a vehicle other than the Space Launch System (SLS). However, some commonality of hardware will ride on this mission in 2014, namely the MPCV (Orion) Stage Adaptor (MSA).

Engineers with the SLS Spacecraft & Payload Integration team at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) are building the spacecraft adapter that will allow for Orion to be integrated on to the Delta IV-H. This hardware will serve as part of the MSA between Orion and the SLS.

This simple assembly consists of a bottom ring that can attach to either the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) or ICPS (Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage), with a top ring that attaches to the bottom of the Orion Spacecraft Adapter.

MSA on SLSThe hardware consists of a dome-shaped diaphragm to separate the top of the DCSS from Orion, while cables that will run between Orion and the Delta IV on EFT-1 – or the initial SLS configuration – run through the inside of the MSA.

The work – starting with the Structural Test Article (STA) – is being carried out by master machinists in the Mechanical Fabrication Branch of the Space Systems Department are using the world’s largest multi-axis milling machine to build the ring prototypes in Building 4705.

“The final vertical weld on the first production MSA was successfully completed on 1/23/13,” L2 information noted. “The MSA was lifted out of the vertical weld tool and set on blocks for ultrasonic Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE). The MSA will be placed into the robotic weld tool for the welding of the forward and aft rings.

“This MSA will be used as a structural test article (STA), then maintained as a flight spare. Vertical welding for the second production MSA will begin this month (February). The second MSA is scheduled to be delivered to KSC in December to fly on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1).”

At the same time, ATK completed development flight instrumentation installation and functional tests for the EFT-1 Launch Abort Motor (LAS). Additional EFT-1 LAS operations will continue through February.

Orion PTV (with a sense of humor)Finally, preparations are underway for the upcoming Parachute Compartment Drop Test Vehicle airdrop test in Yuma, Arizona. The vehicle will be released on a platform from a C-130 aircraft at 25,000 ft.

During this latest in a series of drop tests, one drogue chute will skip its first reefing stage and both drogues chutes will have a normal second stage, then go full open. One main parachute will be rigged to represent a canopy failure (flagging main), which will result in a descent under two main chutes.

Orion’s air drop tests build an understanding of the chutes’ technical performance for eventual human-rated certification.


(Images: L2’s Orion and SLS Special Sections, and NASA)

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