EFT-1 Orion comes to life via first power up

by Chris Bergin

The Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) Orion has been powered up for the first time ahead of its launch next summer. The test – conducted inside the Operations and Checkout (O&C) building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – successfully demonstrated the crew module avionics were integrated properly and are in good health.

EFT-1 Orion:

NASA’s new spacecraft has been years in the making, delayed numerous times due to political changes to NASA’s forward plan that even resulted in its cancellation during the most recent transition

First weld on EFT-1 OrionThe first physical sign of Orion’s new life was seen at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, as the EFT-1 vehicle saw its first panels welded together.

With NASA representing the start of construction as “the first new NASA spacecraft built to take humans to orbit since space shuttle Endeavour left the factory in 1991,” the EFT-1 Orion enjoyed a successful build at the former home of External Tank production, prior to heading to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for around 18 months-worth of outfitting operations.

The irony of the reference to Endeavour is not lost via this latest milestone, with KSC still overshadowed by the retirement of the Shuttle fleet, marked by power downs of the orbiters, such as Endeavour, when she was turned off in March, 2012.

With EFT-1 Orion coming to life, KSC finally has a living spacecraft back on their books – a vehicle that will not only venture further into space than the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) realm owned by the Shuttle fleet for 30 years, but also with an eye on the prize goal of sending humans to Mars.

Z4“Orion will take humans farther than we’ve ever been before, and in just about a year we’re going to send the Orion test vehicle into space,” noted Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington.

“The work we’re doing now, the momentum we’re building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step.”

Although Orion still has an appearance of a shell – as opposed to the spacecraft-looking appearance it will enjoy during its launch – the power up testing is a huge milestone for the capsule.

Z8According to Orion’s main contractor, Lockheed Martin, operators in the Test Launch and Control Center (TLCC) introduced software scripts to the crew module’s main control computers via thousands of wires and electrical ground support equipment during the power up.

“The main computers received commands from the ground, knew where to send them, read the data from different channels, and successfully relayed electrical responses back to the TLCC,” added the company.

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“For over a year, the team has been developing, testing, and installing critical equipment to the crew module, which has now been shown to integrate flawlessly – it’s an incredible engineering achievement,” added  Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin program manager for Orion.

For the EFT-1 mission, Orion will be launched by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV-H, lofted to 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, with the results feeding into Orion’s key Critical Design Review (CDR), set for the middle of 2015.

“It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we’re really getting to the good part now,” added Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. “This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life.”

Z7The following Orion will be launched by the Space Launch System (SLS), during a 2017 test flight known as Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1), a precursor mission to EM-2’s crewed flight to rendezvous with a captured asteroid near the Moon.

The current processing flow for the EFT-1 Orion includes crew module power systems testing, that will undergo testing for six months as additional electronics are added to the spacecraft.

Preparations are also continuing on the Service Module and ATK’s Launch Abort System (LAS) that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The Delta IV-Heavy tasked with lofting the EFT-1 Orion on a multi-hour mission set for shipping to Cape Canaveral next March.

(Images: Via L2 content from L2’s Orion specific L2 section, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal – interactive with actual SLS and Orion engineers – with updates available on no other site. Other images via NASA)

(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full exclusive SLS and Exploration Planning coverage.  To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

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