The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy – that is set to launch the Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) Orion into space next year – has passed the 50 percent mark in its fabrication process in Alabama. The vehicle will be shipped to the Florida Space Coast next March, ahead of its September, 2014 launch date.
The ULA rocket will be tasked with lofting the first space-bound Orion on a several hour flight to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, prior to a return to Earth on a high-speed re-entry at more than 20,000 mph.
The most intense loads on this flight will occur during ascent, first stage separation, launch abort system jettison, parachute deployment and landing, with the test allowing NASA to evaluate Orion’s performance and integrity in preparation for the spacecraft’s future deep-space expeditions.
The EFT-1 data will also be a key driver during Orion’s key Critical Design Review (CDR) that will follow the test flight in the middle of 2015.
Following the completion of the CDR, the next Orion will be prepared for the Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) flight, conducted via the debut launch of the Space Launch System (SLS).
This mission is currently set for December, 2017 – although L2 information notes recent estimations currently place the launch window opportunities in a night launch stance, which would be undesirable for what is a test flight. As such, the mission may be moved to day launch opportunities the following Spring.
The first crewed mission with Orion and SLS will be Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2) in either 2020 or 2021. This mission was set to be a slightly extended version of EM-1’s trip around the Moon, prior to its realignment into an ambitious asteroid rendezvous and sample mission.
Following several slips over the past few years, EFT-1’s September, 2014 launch date is now holding firm, with all the hardware associated with the mission in various stages of production and processing.
A level of confusion surrounded last year’s slip to September, 2014, with a NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) meeting claiming the “pacing element” was the Delta IV-H.
“EFT-1 is scheduled for September 2014. The pacing element for this flight is the surrogate launch vehicle; the capsule itself is well on the path to testing,” noted minutes from their discussions at the Johnson Space Center last year.
At the time, the comments appeared to match notes acquired a few months previous, which also pointed a finger at the Delta IV-H – as opposed to the EFT-1 Orion – as the main scheduling item. However, ULA claimed they were on track for the previous spring launch date for EFT-1.
“The LV for EFT-1 is in our production and launch queue and production is underway. The projected launch date has been agreed to between ULA, LM (Lockheed Martin) and NASA and ULA (and) is on track,” noted noted Dr George Sowers, ULA VP for Human Launch Services, during a Q&A session with NASASpaceFlight.com members.
“If Orion is planning to a (different) date, that is prudent since it’s the first flight for the spacecraft and there’s more risk. The Delta IV rocket, on the other hand, is a mature product.”
Interestingly, information acquired via L2 confirms the Delta IV-H only recently passed the 50 percent point in its fabrication process, pacing it for a shipping from the Decatur plant in Alabama next March.
“In addition to significant progress on the powerful rocket’s assembly and production, Launch, Mission Integration and Support activities are well underway at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida,” the update noted.
“The EFT-1 launch vehicle major assemblies will be delivered to KSC in March 2014, with stacking on the launch pad beginning in July.”
Photos (L2) of the EFT-1 Delta IV-H show the vehicle undergoing its fabrication effort on the propulsion tankage for the rocket’s four major components: Center Common Booster Core (CBC), Port CBC, Starboard CBC, and the DCSS (Upper Stage).
The major work on the vehicle involves the friction stir welding process for the tank longitudinal welds and plasma arc welding for the circumferential welds. Similar processes were employed for the External Tanks during their production at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), along with other vehicles.
This process ensures optimal structural integrity for the intense loading that the vehicles endure during their ride uphill.
After the EFT-1 tank skins are friction stir welded, the tanks will then undergo insulation installation, receive their coat of paint, prior to final assembly and shipping to Florida.
(NSF and L2 are providing full future vehicle coverage, available no where else on the internet, from Orion and SLS to ISS and COTS/CRS/CCDEV, to European and Russian vehicles.)
(Click here to join L2: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/ )