Plum Brook prepped for EM-1 Orion Service Module testing

by Chris Bergin

Testing of Orion’s Service Module will be conducted at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station this year in preparation for Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1). The Service Module is being built via the cooperation of both NASA and ESA, along with its own Shuttle heritage as a flown Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engine has been selected to propel Orion into deep space in 2018.

Path To SM:

The Service Module for Orion is a combination of the present, the future and the past – with a healthy dose of international cooperation.

2015-06-20-144149A deal was struck back in 2012, confirming ESA’s involvement – including a surprisingly large contribution from an increasingly space-friendly UK government.

The deal with ESA – via the use of Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) hardware – had been known within NASA for some time prior to the announcement, but had to be sanctioned by the ESA council.

The arrangement is related to ESA’s continued involvement – a barter agreement – with the International Space Station and allows the ATV to live on, long after its retirement from resupply runs to the orbital outpost.

linktoarticleplease2The final ATV mission to the ISS was successfully concluded earlier this year.

(ATV Docking Animation created from 70 hi-res images acquired by L2 – LINK).

Its transition to becoming part of the Orion spacecraft hasn’t been plain sailing.

Sources continue to claim issues relating to the integration of European ATV hardware into Orion’s US based development path under the stewardship of prime contract Lockheed Martin was the part of the reason EM-1 slipped from late 2017 to mid-2018.

EM-1 is a mission tasked with an unmanned flight 70,000 kilometers past the Moon.

NASA has never admitted to this, although SLS managers insist the slip wasn’t specific to the launch vehicle which is still showing a path that would have allowed for a 2017 launch.

However, Orion marriage of international technology is a fundamental element of NASA’s Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) strategy and a requirement due to NASA’s inability to “go it alone” per the financial constraints on its exploration aspirations.

2015-06-20-143949Orion’s Service Module provides ESA with a seat at the human exploration table and avoids ATV’s achievements from being retired to the history books.

“The European Service Module (ESM) is using a number of ATV components (thruster, gas tanks, etc.) and is building on ATV heritage in terms of know-how in designing and qualifying a service module,” noted Nico Dettman, head of ESA’s ATV Programme Department to in 2013.

“Overall, the design of the ESM will differ in many aspects from the ATV-SM, taking into account four different design reference missions (lunar and LEO missions) including propulsive support to mission abort in certain contingency cases with a crewed capsule.

2015-06-20-024445“The latter will be achieved by integrating one of the former Shuttle OMS engines.”

With the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket utilizing numerous elements of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) – not least the RS-25 engines – there is a large amount of synergy in another orbiter engine being used on the Service Module.

NASA has now confirmed it has provided ESA one of the OMS pods from the Shuttle era, which sports an engine that had previously flew on 19 space shuttle missions and performed 89 burns.

2015-06-20-135921The OME (Orbital Maneuvering Engines) played a key role during Shuttle missions, providing a “kick” to the Shuttle’s launch during second stage ascent, burns to specific orbital destinations and rendezvous, while providing the deorbit burn at the end of a mission.

The donated pod in question will have likely flown on one of the final missions for either Atlantis or Endeavour, as they were protected by an initial “stop order” on Transition and Retirement (T&R) work as a final attempt to extend Shuttle operations was evaluated.

When the extension was finally denied, most of the OMS hardware was decommissioned at the White Sands facility in New Mexico, where Shuttle OMS and Reaction Control System (RCS) engines were tested during the Shuttle Program era.

It was known that Discovery’s flown OMS Pods had been decommissioned prior to the “Stop Order” being issued, as any Shuttle extension would have utilized only Atlantis and Endeavour.

Orion Service Module Testing:

2015-06-20-030347The test path for the Service Module highlights NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, which will soon welcome a crew module adapter simulator, prior tot the arrival of a test version of the ESA SM later this year.

Plum Brook is the destination for numerous space destined hardware, including the testing of the large fairings that are being employed by SpaceX.

The test version of the crew module adapter is being built by Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin at the Kennedy Space Center. Other Orion hardware – such as the Crew Module – are now into the early welding work at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans.

2015-06-20-142302The testing of the SM hardware will be conducted inside Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility that can simulate launch and ascent acoustics and mechanical vibrations.

The hardware will be placed on a 22-foot-wide, 55,000-pound vibration-simulating table that was delivered in October 2014.

It uses four horizontal servo-hydraulic actuators and 16 vertical to vibrate the table in such a way that a spacecraft set on top of it would experience the same amount of shaking that it could expect when launching on top of a rocket.

“We’re testing one piece at a time as we integrate the elements so we can look at our models, determine how the vehicle responded, adjust as required and perform additional tests if we need to,” noted Joel Kearns, manager of the Orion Program’s ESA Integration Office.

2015-06-20-030440“Orion’s service module is at the heart of successful future missions. It contains all the air, nitrogen and water for crews, in-space propulsion, and batteries and solar arrays to generate power, so it’s an essential element of the spacecraft.”

These test structures will be put through their paces deep into next year, prior to heading to Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, California for additional testing.

Should all the testing prove to be successful, the EM-1 Service Module will be flown into KSC in January of 2017 for integration with the EM-1 Orion inside the Operations & Checkout (O&C) building, following a similar path to the EFT-1 flow.

However, rather than heading out to mating with its launch vehicle, the entire EM-1 spacecraft will then be shipped to Plum Brook Station for environmental testing that qualifies the vehicle for flight, and only then will it be returned to Kennedy for launch processing.

That will mark the launch processing flow, as the day approaches for the mating of the Orion stack with the SLS inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

(Images: NASA and L2 – including renders by L2 Artist Nathan Koga in the L2 Orion Update Section)

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