The Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) Orion is now being welded together at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans ahead of its 2018 flight with the maiden launch of the Space Launch System (SLS). Orion is also in the process of completing its all-important paperwork, as the Critical Design Review (CDR) process continues ahead of its key meeting in October.
The construction of the EM-1 Orion – tasked with an unmanned mission 70,000 kilometers past the Moon – has been progressing across the country to prepare for the assembly of the spacecraft, as overviewed in L2’s EM-1 Processing Update Section.
This included pathfinder work at Metalex, while machining on the EM-1 pressure vessel involved the first pathfinder aft bulkhead being built at Ingersoll Machine Tools.
The pathfinder forward bulkhead was constructed at Janicki Industries, while the pathfinder three-piece cone panel was also created.
The pathfinder and EM-1 crew module barrels were both being fabricated at Votaw with the pathfinder going through a final machine pass. The backbone panel was also in fabrication at Votaw in April.
The EM-1 cone panel D-E was set up at Aero Pacific and began machining on April 6, while the last mock cone panel was ‘in weld’ at MAF ahead of shipment to Pacific Coastal Aerospace.
The processing information cited May 1 as the historic milestone for the EM-1 Crew Module shell “first weld”. However, it took until September until NASA confirmed this historic milestone had begun.
A release on Tuesday noted that two sections of the Orion spacecraft’s primary structure were welded together on September 5. No reason for the delay from May 1 was provided.
The primary structure of Orion’s crew module is made of seven large aluminum pieces that must be welded together in detailed fashion.
The first weld connects the tunnel to the forward bulkhead, which is at the top of the spacecraft and houses many of Orion’s critical systems, such as the parachutes that deploy during reentry.
Orion’s tunnel, with a docking hatch, will allow crews to move between the crew module and other spacecraft.
“Each of Orion’s systems and subsystems is assembled or integrated onto the primary structure, so starting to weld the underlying elements together is a critical first manufacturing step,” noted Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager.
“The team has done tremendous work to get to this point and to ensure we have a sound building block for the rest of Orion’s systems.”
The milestones for the EM-1 Orion mirror the path taken by the EFT-1 spacecraft. However, the EM-1 Orion will sport a number of improvements based on the experiences of the 2014 test flight.
The EFT-1 Orion’s “first weld” was marked as a major milestone in NASA’s transition back to Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration for human space flight, with the Agency citing the 2011 milestone as the first time NASA had pieced together a “human” space vehicle since the birth of Shuttle orbiter Endeavour.
As with the EFT-1 Orion, the EM-1 Orion is welded together using an innovative new friction stir welding process, developed especially for Orion construction as part of MAF’s own transition from constructing External Tanks to producing both Orion and SLS hardware.
Friction welding creates a seamless, leak-proof bond that has proven stronger and higher in quality than can be achieved with conventional welding.
Engineers have undertaken a meticulous process to prepare for welding. They have cleaned the segments, coated them with a protective chemical and primed them. They then outfitted each element with strain gauges and wiring to monitor the metal during the fabrication process.
EFT-1’s successful trip into space provided engineers with a proof of concept for the structural integrity of the capsule, with post flight checkouts showing the vehicle to be in excellent shape – although there is ongoing interest into the larger-than-expected amount of MMOD damage suffered by the EFT-1 Orion during its test mission last year.
The EFT-1 vehicle – which has now been stripped down – recently arrived at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company headquarters in Littleton, Colorado.
While in Colorado, engineers will perform final decontamination on the crew module, will continue post-flight analysis of select components, and will evaluate a new acoustic technology called Direct Field Acoustic (DFA) testing.
The evaluation of DFA testing will determine if the method can produce enough energy to simulate the acoustic loads Orion will experience during launch and ascent on the SLS rocket.
EFT-1’s flight and the ongoing post-flight evaluations are being fed into Orion’s Critical Design Review (CDR), ahead of its key board meeting – scheduled for October 22.
A Readiness Assessment of the GSDO (Ground Systems Development and Operations) CDR began on September 3, with the GSDO CDR Kickoff scheduled for October 6-8.
“Every day, teams around the country are moving at full speed to get ready for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), when we’ll flight test Orion and SLS together in the proving ground of space, far away from the safety of Earth,” added Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters .
“We’re progressing toward eventually sending astronauts deep into space.”
(Images: Via L2 SLS and Orion sections – including exclusive Orion materials since its CEV era onwards, totalling GBs of content).
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