The first Orion set to launch into space is now looking more like an actual spaceship, as engineers installed the secondary structures around the capsule. The Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) mission remains on track for launch next summer atop of a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
While Orion’s role with the Space Launch System (SLS) recently became more convoluted, following the apparent change to its second Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) mission – known as Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2) – into flight to a “captured asteroid” near the Moon – the EFT-1 mission is proceeding full steam ahead.
The EFT-1 mission is a critical test of Orion’s systems, providing vital data for the Critical Design Review (CDR) in April, 2015 – itself a major milestone ahead of Orion’s debut with the SLS in 2017.
The debut flight of Orion, launching with the United Launch Alliance Delta IV-H, will involve two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere on what is a multi-hour test, testing critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrating early integration capabilities.
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).
The heatshield that will be tasked with protecting Orion during re-entry was recently transported from Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility near Denver to Textron Defense Systems in Wilmington inside a Super Guppy that landed in Boston at the end of March.
The Textron engineers will next apply the avcoat thermal ablation material to the heatshield over the next few months, prior to shipping it to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The EFT-1 Crew Module (CM) is currently located at at KSC’s Operations and Checkout (O&C) building and is now taking shape and showing an appearance that is more familiar with fully constructed models of the Orion spacecraft.
The CM was recently relocated from the birdcage tool onto a purpose-built dolly, allowing for the installation of backshell drill templates to perform match drilling of the attachment assembly.
Strain gauge installations and secondary structure installations continue on the vehicle in preparation for the static loads test.
In addition, the custom replacement brackets and the aft bulkhead doublers have been installed on the Crew Module to repair the cracks suffered on the aft bulkhead ribs.
The cracks occurred during proof pressure testing on the vehicle, with the spacecraft sustaining three cracks in the aft bulkhead. A team composed of Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers designed a set of brackets to repair the area, as well as tooling to fix the cracked structure.
With the CM taking shape, work is continuing on both the EFT-1 Service Module, with shear web assembly and forward bulkhead installed into the service module structure inside the O&C building. Engineers have completed the laser alignment of the shear panels, while the drilling of the panels and longerons is currently in work.
Over in the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) where the EFT-1 Orion was born, engineers are making progress for the incorporation of the LAS Ogive Assembly.
Precision integration of the ogive assembly, which plays a part in protecting the crew module and providing protection during its journey through the atmosphere, was performed using the ogive integration tool.
The ogive panels were placed on the assembly tool and drilling on the panels is currently in progress.
With the ATK-built Launch Abort System (LAS) hardware already on site at Kennedy, the next major hardware to arrive on the Space Coast will be the Delta IV-H itself.
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In preparation for the mating between the EFT-1 Orion and the rocket, the United Launch Alliance will deliver a full-size section of the vehicle to the Marshall Space Flight Center (KSC) later this spring.
This will allow engineers to test the fit of the spacecraft adaptor that will not only fly with the Delta IV-H/Orion combination, but will also provide the same role with the SLS.
Work is currently taking place at a high bay of Building 4755 at MSFC, with expert welders using state-of-the-art friction stir welding machines worked on two separate adapters.
For each adapter, a vertical welding machine stitched panels together to form a conical cylinder, then a circumferential welding machine attached a thicker, structural support ring at the top and the bottom.
The flight of the adaptor on EFT-1 will provide engineers with important data about its performance before it rides on SLS’ EM-1 flight.
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