EFT-1 Orion’s brain becomes active ahead of flight

by Chris Bergin

The Orion for the Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) mission has completed its avionics system testing inside Kennedy Space Center’s Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building. The testing follows the activation of its flight computer, with the avionics system serving as the eyes, ears and brains of the spacecraft. EFT-1 is scheduled to launch at the end of the year.

EFT-1 Orion:

The December mission will provide Orion with a debut trip into space, lofted by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV-Heavy.

During EFT-1, the Orion will be 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.

The recent delay to the mission from the summer to December – caused by the prioritization of a military satellite launch for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness (GEO SSA) system – is not thought to have delayed the CDR process.

While key elements of the launch vehicle began arriving at the famous spaceport last month, the EFT-1 Orion engineers and technicians were continuing their lengthy outfitting work inside the O&C Building.

First weld on EFT-1 OrionThe vehicle has come a long way since the first physical signs 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.

The spacecraft 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.

With the appearance of a lifeless shell, the huge task of installing additional structural elements, miles of wiring and eventually the Thermal Protection System (TPS) – that will allow for the spacecraft to survive its return from space – all started to follow roadmap of processing set out by Orion’s main contractor, Lockheed Martin.

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Z8In October of last year, Orion was powered up for the first time, allowing for an initial checkout of the spacecraft’s avionics software package.

During this initial test, 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 led the way for a full checkout of the avionics system, since concluded after powering on and sending commands to more than 20 different critical systems installed on the spacecraft’s crew module.

Z6“Following the initial power on of the Vehicle Main Computer in October, engineers have since methodically installed additional harnessing, wiring and electronics onto the crew module – completing the avionics system that serves as the eyes, ears and brains of the spacecraft,” noted Lockheed Martin on Monday.

During these tests, engineers individually activated and sent commands to the pyrotechnics, batteries, thermal control, cameras, guidance and navigation, propulsion, and environmental control life support systems, all while evaluating signal quality, on-board system responses, and data production.

Staging Profile (Contray to the Con Ops)“Each and every one of these systems is critical to mission success and they must perform flawlessly to ensure the safety of future crews,” noted Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin Orion program manager.

“Now that we’ve finished functional testing, the team will conduct performance testing and turn on all the systems at once, simulating the spacecraft’s operations during EFT-1.”

Following EFT-1, Orion will look forward to a ride on the Space Launch System (SLS). Known as Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will set sail for its first trip into deep space.

That mission is tasked with lofting an Orion on a mission that will send the spacecraft 70,000 km past the Moon on a 25 day flight.

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