Lockheed Martin powers up Artemis 2 Orion, updates status on other capsules

by Chris Gebhardt

Lockheed Martin has completed the first-time power-up of the Orion capsule for the Artemis 2 mission — the first Orion capsule that will be tasked with carrying humans.

As work continues on that capsule, Lockheed Martin — the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft — provided updates on the other three capsules, and three European Service Modules, currently in various stages of their respective flows for Artemis missions 1, 2, and 3.

Powering up Artemis 2’s Orion

A significant milestone for all spacecraft is their very first power-up — a milestone the Orion capsule for Artemis 2 achieved the week of May 23.

“We just powered it up for the first time, which is a huge milestone for us because we’ve been working on it now for several years,” said Jules Schneider, Director of Orion Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations at Lockheed Martin — a position responsible for overseeing the assembly and testing of the spacecraft up to the point where it is delivered to NASA.

Schneider himself has been with the Orion program from its inception and was part of the team that drafted the spacecraft’s initial proposal when it was part of the now-canceled Constellation Program.

The Orion capsule for Artemis 2 is currently in the Operations and Checkout (O&C) building at the Kennedy Space Center, where the Orions are assembled and — to a degree — tested.

The Artemis II Orion inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building . (Credit: NASA)

“We finally got enough of the avionics and the electronics and all the wiring and everything else that’s needed onboard and integrated such that we could power it up for the first time and kind of bring it to life, load flight software, etc.,” related Schneider.

Certain functional checkouts of the capsule’s nascent state are currently being conducted, with Schneider noting that a good deal of assembly and integration work remains for this capsule even though it is far along in its overall build lifecycle.

Meanwhile, this Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) is also at the Kennedy Space Center and undergoing preparations for integrated testing and flight.

The European Service Module has been integrated to the Crew Module Adapter, which is the part of the Service Module that [Lockheed Martin] builds and tests,” noted Schneider. “That’s all fully integrated. So if you were to walk out on the shop floor, you would see a nearly fully assembled Service Module that still has some work to go and some testing at the module level.”

He continued: “The phase we’re getting into now for Artemis 2 is we’re getting into a more test-centric phase versus an assembly or build phase. We still have some environmental testing to do, we have thermal cycle [tests] at the module levels for both the Crew Module and Service Module. We have direct field acoustics to do at the module level for both Crew Module and Service Module.”

After this, the next step will be vacuum testing on the integrated Orion assembly (which includes the Service Module) before delivering the system to NASA for stacking and flight on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The Launch Abort System separates from the Orion capsule during a nominal ascent to orbit. After Solid Rocket Booster separation, the Orion’s European Service Module engines have enough power to push Orion safely away from a potentially failing SLS Core Stage or Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. (Credit: Mack Crawford for NSF)

This delivery to NASA is currently targeted for Quarter 4 of 2023.

Orion for Artemis 1

Meanwhile, the older sibling Orion for Artemis 1 has so far passed its portion of the mission’s Wet Dress Rehearsal with flying colors.

“My understanding is that the Orion for Artemis 1 has done very well during testing of ground processing and Wet Dress Rehearsal testing,” noted Schneider. “And we support all that because Orion gets powered up during that and all the systems are monitored. Orion has done very well.”

After Lockheed Martin turned over the Artemis 1 Orion to NASA, the US space agency took the assembly to a hazardous processing facility where it was fueled for the mission and had its inert Launch Abort System installed. 

The completed Orion stack was then taken to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and hoisted atop the SLS in High Bay 3 of the building. Its stacking marked the first time a full SLS rocket was assembled and tested as a fully-integrated system.

This Orion lacks some things — notably a fully-functioning Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) — that will be required on future Orion’s inflow for Artemis 2 and beyond.

“On Artemis 1, we are not flying the whole thing but a portion of the ECLSS subsystems,” noted Schneider. “The subsystems that are involved in keeping humans alive or interfacing with humans, those aren’t being flown on Artemis 1, so you’re not gonna get any data back on those until you fly Artemis 2.”

“So even Artemis 2 is going to be a development flight because that’s the first time you will have flown a fully outfitted Orion spacecraft.”

Likewise, Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS), built by Northrop Grumman, is inert for Artemis 1. As there is no crew for the mission, and since only some avionics assemblies and seats are planned to be reused from the Artemis 1 Orion (with the overall vehicle not planned for re-flight), there is no pressing need to have an active abort system on the first flight as recovering the Orion in the event of a launch failure would not — in practice — accelerate the timeline to Return To Flight.

Therefore, the LAS will be inert on Artemis 1 but fully active for Artemis 2 and beyond.

To this, Schneider noted, “We’ve already tested the Launch Abort System, both from a Pad Abort standpoint and an ascent abort standpoint. So we’ve already verified, if you will, that the Launch Abort System works.”

Orion for Artemis 3… the first to be reused

While the Orions for Artemis 1 and 2 are not planned to be reused, this will change with the Orion currently being built for Artemis 3 — the mission planned to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in over 50 years following the departure of Apollo 17 on December 14, 1972.

After returning the Artemis 3 crew to Earth, the current plan is to take the capsule, refurbish it, and fly it again on Artemis 6.

But before that, the capsule must be fully built, tested, and readied for its first flight.

“The crew module pressure shell [has been] delivered to us,” said Schneider. “And it’s well underway.”

All primary structure installations are complete on this capsule as well as proof tests on its structure.

Teams are currently in the process of installing hundreds of brackets and various secondary structure elements that will hold cables, avionics boxes, systems, etc. These are known as the secondary structures.

“That’s the phase we’re in right now,” noted Schneider. “And then once that’s complete this summer, we’ll go into the cleanroom and start integrating the propulsion and ECLSS systems.”

The main body for Service Module 3 for Artemis 3 arrives at Airbus’ integration hall in Bremen, Germany for outfitting after its initial structural build in Turin, Italy. (Credit: ESA)

“We’ll be in the cleanroom for months to do that. And then, when we come out, we start doing electrical integration. So same lifecycle as Artemis 2, but Artemis 3, I’d say, we’re still in the early phases of it.”

The Crew Module Adaptor for this flight is also well underway.  

“We build it from the ground up. It’s a mechanically assembled structure,” added Schneider. “And that’s what we’re working on right now, the structural piece of it.”

“And it has a similar lifecycle as the new module in that once we do the structural integration, we do the propulsion and ECLSS system integrations and then we move on to the electrical integration. So it’s just not nearly as complicated as the crew model.”

Work on the Crew Module Adaptor is being done in parallel with the build of the European Service Module for this flight. ESM-3 is currently in Bremen, Germany undergoing build and checkouts before shipping to the Kennedy Space Center next year.

“As soon as we receive the European Service Module, we’ll integrate the two.”

An overview of the European Service Module’s structure and function. (Credit: ESA)

The European Service Modules are funded and built by the European Space Agency (ESA) in a barter agreement with NASA for crew time on the International Space Station (the Service Modules for Artemis 1, 2, 3, and 6) as well as for time on and ESA contribution to the Lunar Gateway (Service Modules for Artemis 4 and 5).

Artemis 4 and 5’s Orion capsules — the last of the currently planned Orion builds

Overall, the Orion for Artemis 4 is currently undergoing pressure vessel build operations at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.

It is expected to be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in February 2023 for primary and secondary structure buildouts.

The pressure vessel for the Artemis 5 Orion will then follow. 

Under the current contract with NASA, Lockheed Martin is responsible for building and delivering the Orions through Artemis 5.

Beginning with Artemis 6, the plan is to reuse the three fully operational Orions for future Artemis crew missions.

(Lead image: Rendering of Orion in cislunar space. Credit: Mack Crawford for NSF)

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