NASA Plum Brook Station gets ready for EM-1 Orion testing

by Philip Sloss

EMI/EMC testing at the end

Smith said there are two parts to the RF-interference EMI/EMC phase of testing. “There’s two different types of tests that we do. So the first one is the RF-quiet chamber for the intra-system, the compatibility testing.”

“Our chamber is kind of cool because it’s an aluminum thermal vac chamber which we can seal it off really well around the doors and make it an RF-quiet environment,” she explained. “So for that test they’re just going to be powering on and off parts of the vehicle and they’re going to be looking at the compatibility. There’s no external RF sources coming in and it’s just looking at how the systems are playing well together.”

The EM-1 Crew Module configured for Direct Field Acoustic Testing (DFAT), recently completed in the O&C Building at KSC. NASA/Rad Sinyak.

“For the second part of that test, we’re utilizing the aluminum and the shape of the chamber to a reverberant mode test where we do introduce external RF sources via horns and we fill the entire chamber with this RF environment and then they power on and off again parts of the spacecraft and they make sure that everything works within that RF environment. When we’re doing that testing, we’ll test four different frequencies at a time and we’ll hold them for an hour.”

“We can provide a highly uniform field between forty megahertz and forty gigahertz and an electric field up to a thousand volts per minute but I can’t talk too much about what we’re specifically providing,” she added, as the specific numbers are export-control restricted.

“That portion of the test should take a couple of weeks, so after thermal vac we’ll take a couple of weeks to reconfigure the vehicle and also the chamber. Then we’ll do that test and that’ll be the last that we do before we send it back to the Cape.”

Including work before and after testing, Smith said the spacecraft will be at Plum Brook Station for about four months.

Transportation corridor finished

Transportation to and from Plum Brook requires planes and automobiles. Most of the distance is covered in NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft. The Orion “short stack” will be wrapped up in the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC, rotated to horizontal, and placed on a transporter for the trip.

After loading on the Super Guppy at the Shuttle Landing Facility, the aircraft will fly to Lahm Airport in Mansfield, Ohio. The airport is still a long distance from Plum Brook Station and a lot of planning went into preparing the “corridor” between Mansfield and Plum Brook and how to move Orion back and forth along the route.

“It’s about forty miles from the facility so I’ve spent some effort over the last couple of years getting the transportation route prepared to the point where we can ship a vehicle as big as this thing from the airport to our facility,” Smith noted. “I had to move about nine-hundred power lines and phone lines, telecomms (telecommunications equipment) and stuff.”

Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

(Photo Caption: The Orion Crew and Service Module Horizontal Transporter (CHT) with a low-fidelity Orion “short stack” goes through a fit check with NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft in March at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.)

“We hired a really great logistics lead who is a local company and they did a lot of the cat herding of these utilities so we had probably three different power companies and numerous telecomms and of course tree-trimming to prep the route. We actually just finished it.”

Once offloaded from the Super Guppy, the spacecraft will be trucked up to Plum Brook. “It’s going to be a convoy of vehicles,” Smith said. The spacecraft obviously has to have an environment control unit so we’ll have that and a backup one of those and a backup generator just in case.”

“The truck is actually one that has the rear steerables so it’s pretty good sized truck to be able to carry this load, it sits pretty low to the ground and like I said the rear steerable axle lets us be able to drive it and get it around corners where we need to. The maximum speed for this guy is twenty miles an hour and whenever we have to cross a railroad track or go around a corner we basically have to stop and then unpin that rear axle and then drive it around the corner like less than five miles an hour, so I expect that it could take us five to six hours to get it up here from the airport.”

(Photo Caption: Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion, and Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion Program Manager, in front of the EM-1 Orion Crew Module during a recent visit to KSC in May. The working side hatch in between them will be making its first flight on EM-1.)

“I think we’re going to do it in the most timely fashion possible,” Smith added. “I know all the states have different rules on when they like to move these super loads. I think ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) is going to let us do it when we need to do it, so I think it’s probably in the middle of the day.”

The support equipment for Orion also needs to make the round trip. “Some of it is already here, some of it is being used down at the Cape and as soon as they’re done with it, it’ll get sent up here,” she said.

Smith also noted they are still deciding if a support aircraft will also make the trip with the Super Guppy. “I don’t think they’ve fully decided,” she said. “I do know that if there is not a support aircraft they are going to preposition crew and backup hardware at every place that the Guppy lands, so I think that’s up for debate but we’re having some transportation meetings here over the next few weeks and hopefully we’ll get the final answer to that one shook out.”

Orion progress at KSC, consumable offload planned for EM-1

Down in the O&C Building at KSC, the EM-1 Orion spacecraft hardware has almost completed standalone testing. “The Service Module is darn near complete, as is the Crew Module,” NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich said last week. “We’re in the final throes of testing and correcting the few little gotchas we’re finding.”

The last standalone test for each module is the Direct Field Acoustic Test (DFAT), where the hardware is rattled with high-levels of acoustic energy to simulate conditions during the launch phase. The Crew Module recently finished its tests and the Service Module is next.

Service Module was put in nearly a launch configuration for the upcoming testing, with the OMS-E nozzle installed first, followed by the Spacecraft Adapter. Those were attached in the Lift Station on one end of the O&C before the module was moved to another station about halfway to the area where the DFAT will be conducted. The solar array wings were then attached there to configure the Service Module for the acoustic test.

(Photo Caption: Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion, and Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion Program Manager, in front of the EM-1 Orion Service Module during a recent visit to KSC in May. The four solar array wings are attached around the barrel of the European Service Module for the upcoming Direct Field Acoustic Testing (DFAT).)

The solar array wings and Spacecraft Adapter will be removed prior to the trip to Plum Brook, which will follow mating of the two modules. Kirasich estimated that the trip to Plum Brook would take place at the end of the Summer.

“We’re in the final throes of the last few installations and then we have some functional tests,” he said. “Just like on the Crew Module, we’re finding one or two things with the Service Module that we’re going to have to go in and correct and that’s what’s going to push us likely from August into September. I would say end of August, early September, maybe September.”

A recent configuration change for the mission is now being planned to increase the duration of each monthly period in which Orion can fly to the Moon. “Orion will remove propellant and consumables not needed for the EM-1 mission; this reduction in Orion mass will provide up to three days of additional launch window opportunities,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations and Mark Sirangelo, Special Assistant to the NASA Administrator, said in written testimony submitted to the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for a May 8 public hearing.

Kirasich explained that the other commodity is water; like the propellant, it will be offloaded from the Service Module. “We don’t have any crew or rodents in the Crew Module on this flight, so we don’t need as much water as we initially planned, so we’re offloading water and we’re offloading propellant,” he said.

“Without crew it’s a lighter Crew Module than it will be on EM-2 and even when we have four people [onboard] depending on the mission we may offload propellant,” he added. “We’d already planned a couple thousand pounds that we were going to offload, [now] we’re going to go to the max offload on EM-1.”

“There’s nobody to drink the water and we’re lighter so we don’t need the propellant and it gives us more launch opportunities.”

Lead image credit: NASA.

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