Artemis 1 Orion halfway through Plum Brook thermal vacuum test

by Philip Sloss

Artemis 2 spacecraft assembly

While the Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft is at Plum Brook, assembly of the Artemis 2 spacecraft continues on both sides of the Atlantic. Part of Lockheed Martin’s ATLO team continues assembly of the Artemis 2 Crew Module and Crew Module Adapter in the O&C Building at KSC while Airbus Defence and Space works to complete the second European Service Module (ESM) at its Assembly, Integration, and Testing (AIT) facility in Bremen, Germany.

“We’re approximately halfway done with the Crew Module assembly in the O&C and the ESA (European Space Agency) Service Module assembly in Europe,” Kirasich said during a media session in early December. “Especially on the second time through, the factory gets good; what really drives [the schedule] is when does the components come from the suppliers.”

“Orion alone here in the U.S. has eight-hundred [suppliers] and the European parts come from over ten different countries, let alone companies. So a statistic that I track weekly is the major ESA Service Module components that have been delivered to the Bremen factory and as of the 30th (November 30) they had sixty of eighty, so they have twenty more to deliver.”

Credit: NASA/Cory Huston.

(Photo Caption: Two members of the band X Ambassadors are featured in an October 21 image in front of the Artemis 2 Orion Crew Module which was going through clean room processing at the time. They were positioned to support export control, obscuring flight and/or ground hardware that is not allowed to be shown in public imagery. The Crew Module continues to move in and out of the clean room for welding of fluid lines in between critical part deliveries and installation.)

“Some of the prop tanks are already there [in Bremen], there’s some gas valves, some ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System) [valves], some water valves, there is the pump that pumps the coolant fluid through the Service Module, those are yet to be delivered,” he said at the time.

“Same thing in the O&C Building, I would call assembly half-ish of the way through,” he added. “The fluid lines, the harnesses, and the components are like the assembly — second, third time you fly it, they are there. Now our challenge is these first-time ECLSS components, the carbon dioxide removal system, that’s our big crunch to get those delivered.”

Artemis 2 is the third and last Orion test flight and will be the first crew-capable spacecraft built. Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) flew in December, 2014, with an early working version of the Crew Module and mass simulators for the Service Module on a short, two Earth orbit flight that remained attached to the upper stage of its Delta launch vehicle for most of the flight.

Artemis 1 (formerly Exploration Mission-1) is the first version of the spacecraft with a working Service Module that allows Orion to make its own maneuvers and carry out a mission on its own. Still uncrewed, a Space Launch System (SLS) booster will send Orion to the Moon where the spacecraft will fly itself into and out of lunar orbit before returning to Earth.

The Artemis 2 spacecraft adds the ECLSS and other crew support systems to the design for their first flight. Four astronauts will fly Orion on a test flight that demonstrates the spacecraft’s capability to fly crew first in a high Earth orbit and then in a single lap around the Moon before returning home.

In Florida, the Artemis 2 Crew Module is going through welding and component installations. “We are in the clean room today,” Kirasich said on January 23. “Now we’re welding the plumbing which is the thermal control system and the environmental control system plumbing, we haven’t completed the whole set yet.”

The schedule for assembly and test operations is still adjusting to parts deliveries. “When you start an assembly you have an initial plan and then real life happens,” Kirasich said.

Credit: Airbus Defence and Space.

(Photo Caption: Flight Model-2 of the European Service Module in the integration stand at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany, in November, 2019. Final assembly, integration, and testing will continue through most of 2020, with shipment of the completed element to KSC planned for November. Once at KSC, the ESM will be structurally and functionally mated to the Crew Module Adapter to form the Artemis 2 Service Module before mating with the Crew Module planned for next year.)

“You thought you were going to start part number three before part number four but then part four comes early and part three gets late, so the ATLO guys what they tell me is there’s actually an infinite number of ways to assemble the vehicle — we have a nominal plan on the day we start, and then we react to the circumstances.”

“What we’ve done on Artemis 2, again adjusting to the actual delivery of parts as they come in, we’ve optimized the schedule to match the supplier deliveries, so we’ve actually broken up the plumbing system welding. We do a little welding, we come out, we install a few boxes, and we go back and we do a little welding and we are in the third cycle of the welding; I don’t have the number of the total cycles we’ll have.”

“To date, we’re still holding the initial what we call Crew Module complete date of late in the Summer; the more you have to go in and out it does add risk but we’re watching it very closely.” Installation of the spacecraft’s heatshield would occur later in the overall integration sequence; however, after the completion milestone standalone functional testing of the Crew Module can begin leading to readiness to mate with the rest of the spacecraft in 2021.

The Crew Module Adapter is the least complex of the three major spacecraft elements and is closer to finishing its clean room operations, with 89 of 99 welds completed. Once all the welds are completed, they will be checked for leaks in a proof test; subsystem installations and standalone functional testing will follow.

“Right now our Artemis 2 critical path is delivery of the ESA Service Module from Europe and right now the ESA Service Module arrives at Kennedy in November of this year,” Kirasich noted. Similarly to the Artemis 1 spacecraft, arrival of the ESM at Kennedy will start the final assembly campaign.

“Roughly speaking then we do the integration and you know the Artemis 1 template was four-hundred forty-five days, that was from the ESM arrival until we hand off to ground ops.”

The current working plan is for that integration work is to return to a standard schedule, five days a week on two shifts. For Artemis 1, the team has been working seven days a week on three shifts around the clock since the Artemis 1 ESM arrived in November, 2018. For Artemis 2, ESM arrival in November, 2020, would result in handover of the completed Orion from Lockheed Martin to NASA EGS in June, 2022, for launch preparations.

What that means for a launch date isn’t clear.  Loverro is leading an effort to re-evaluate the schedules across all the Exploration programs and launch dates for Artemis 1 and Artemis 2; those dates and schedules may be released around the rollout of the President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021 on February 10.

Artemis 3 mission planning

Less than a year ago Orion’s Exploration Mission-3 flight became one of several launches to support the overall Artemis 3 mission goal of a crewed lunar landing. “I’ve talked about the hardware and software [for Artemis 3] and we’re well into the initial manufacturing, but the most exciting part about that is we’re going to be taking people to the Moon so they can land on the Moon,” Kirasich said. “We are working very closely with first of all the Mission Operations people here at Johnson [Space Center] and then the Gateway and Lander Programs on mission planning.”

Credit: NASA.

(Photo Caption: A chart from NASA presentations in the Fall of 2019 showing milestones occurring after the Orion/SLS launch, which will be the final Artemis 3 launch that carries the crew to the lunar lander. As currently envisioned Artemis 3 will be a multi-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) mission. The lander elements will be transported to cislunar space first in one or more launches. Orion will rendezvous with the integrated lander either at the Gateway or directly.)

Kirasich noted that the outline of the Orion mission remains largely the same as EM-3, which was a flight to rendezvous and dock to the Gateway in a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) in cislunar space. “In general the Orion mission at a certain level is well-defined,” he said. “We will put four people in the capsule, we’ll launch them, SLS will do a maneuver that sends us on the way to the Moon, we’ll go into lunar orbit and then people will get off on something, then they will land on the Moon and come back and we’ll bring them home.”

“The variable is this. NASA is doing a procurement competition to acquire the landers, NASA is likely to select multiple landers, and NASA did not restrict the lander proposals to a specific mission sequence,” Kirasich explained.

“So initially the mission sequence was the lander would dock at the Gateway, we would dock at the Gateway, and we would all be at the Gateway. [Now] there may be lander proposals that don’t dock to the Gateway but are in a lunar orbit; if that’s what we select and pick, then Orion would dock to a lander.”

“The mission is very similar docked to the Gateway or docked to the lander,” Kirasich said from an Orion point of view. “Exactly what we do, there’s a little bit we have to finish. HLS (Human Landing System) has to finish their procurement, there’s some other studies going on within NASA to optimize the mission, so we are participating in all of those discussions.”

Lead image credit: NASA/James Zunt and NASA Glenn’s Imaging Technology Center.

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