NASA creates working group to get Orion ESM back on schedule

by Chris Bergin

NASA is continuing to work towards the historic maiden launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), with the rocket still on schedule to make a 2018 debut. However, the passenger – the EM-1 Orion – is requiring the assistance of a working group, specifically focused on the European Service Module (ESM), which continues to struggle with schedule issues.


The European Service Module (ESM) element of Orion has been classed as a major schedule driver for the program for some time.

The Service Module for Orion was originally going to be an all-American system, under the control of Lockheed Martin. However, a deal back in 2012 resulted in an alliance with the European Space Agency (ESA) to utilize hardware associated with its Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

The deal made sense. NASA’s goal of international collaboration is deemed to be an essential formula for spreading the costs and increasing the viability of NASA’s exploration goals, building on the success of the partnerships that built the International Space Station.

Also, the ATV is proven technology, having already proved its worth via a string of successful resupply missions to the orbital outpost.

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

However, the challenge of combining the technology into what is essentially an American vehicle has resulted in schedule pressures.

Progress has been made, with the structural test version of the European Service Module having arrived in the United States for a series of tests at NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Space Power Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, to validate the service module’s design ahead of the EM-1 mission in 2018.

2016-11-07-191900That testing has been proceeding to plan. However, the actual ESM that will fly with the EM-1 Orion is still behind schedule.

While the rocket is pressing ahead towards the 2018 launch date, Orion is lagging behind – requiring the assistance of a NASA working group.

“NASA is rapidly working through the (SLS) design and build process, and have identified many successful milestones passed (reviews, tests completed),” noted the minutes from the latest ASAP meeting.

“In the Orion Program, the ESA SM is running behind schedule. NASA has put together a working group, that has worked the major issues and has identified a number of small changes that can get the ESA SM back on schedule.”

2016-11-07-192927Once the ESM and Orion capsule have been mated, they will look forward to being integrated with the SLS inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) ahead of rollout to Pad 39B.

Members of the Operations Integration and Analysis teams, preparing for that key milestone, recently developed an assessment on Orion Pad stay time, stack time, and the number of transits between the VAB and Launch Pad.

“There is an Orion requirement stating that Orion needs to be able to tolerate the launch pad environments for up to 30 days cumulatively. Likewise, a similar Orion requirement states that Orion needs to be capable of being attached to the SLS for up to 100 days without the need to de-stack,” noted L2 Orion information.

“The analysis results indicate that Orion actually needs to be capable of tolerating much longer durations, i.e., 120 days of pad exposure time and 310 days of being attached to SLS. The analysis also addressed the potential number of vehicle moves that Orion needs to be able to tolerate (9).

“The results of the analysis were briefed to the Cross Program Integration Team (CPIT) this week. Orion accepted an action to review their capability to achieve the suggested durations and number of moves.”

Also, once Orion completes her mission, recovery operations – following on from lessons learned during the Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) – will come into play.

2016-11-07-193036While the EM-1 Orion will be an uncrewed flight, recovery operations will need to prove their worth, to prove Orion can keep the astronauts safe ahead of being picked out of the ocean.

EFT-1 lessons have shown issues with the crew module uprighting system.

“On Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, one of the flotation balloons deflated prematurely. These are the devices that ensure that the crew module stays in an upright and safe condition until recovery. Numerous design changes have been made to fix what happened there, but unfortunately, the Program is experiencing a different problem with seams leaking,” added the ASAP overview.

“This is not a technology issue, but it must be solved. There are several parallel paths under review to address the issue, and the Panel will follow this activity.”

2016-11-07-192518This review is taking place in tandem within the parameters of the current recovery reviews, which recently saw the Landing and Recovery team – within the Test Planning & Management team – successfully concluding the Test Readiness Review (TRR) for “Underway Recovery Test #5 (URT-5)” at the Program Control Board (PCB) level.

“There was very positive feedback from the board members for the level of planning and preparation for this very important development test,” added L2 status.

URT-5 involves the use of the USS San Diego, which currently has a boiler plate Orion in her well deck.

(Images: NASA, Cody Zoller and L2 Artist Nathan Koga.  The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

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