Orion Spreads its Wings

Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in preparation for installation on the Artemis I spacecraft, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings for inspection on Sept. 10, 2020, to confirm that it unfurled properly and all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings on Sept. 10, 2020. Prior to installation on the Orion spacecraft, the team performed an inspection to confirm proper extension and to ensure all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The pictured solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.

The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

NASA Completes Fifth Green Run Test for First Artemis Moon Rocket

Engineers have completed the fifth of eight Green Run tests on the core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, continuing progress toward a hot fire test this fall. Operators evaluated the stage’s thrust vector control system on the historic B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Sept. 13. The test provided critical verification of the control system and its related hydraulics as operators moved the stage’s four RS-25 engines as they must move during flight to steer the rocket and maintain a proper trajectory. The stage now is set for two more tests – a simulated countdown demonstration and wet dress rehearsal – directly leading to the hot fire of all four RS-25 engines, as during an actual flight.

In the countdown demonstration, engineers will simulate the launch countdown and procedures to validate the established timeline and sequence of events. In the wet dress rehearsal, engineers will conduct another countdown exercise and actually load, control and drain more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic propellants to ensure all is set for the final test of the Green Run series. The concluding test will activate all stage systems and fire the four RS-25 engines to generate the same combined 1.6 million pounds of thrust that will help launch the SLS rocket when it flies on the Artemis I mission.

SLS Booster Test Update: Successful Test Completed!

Teams from NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and prime contractor Northrop Grumman successfully completed the Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1)  ground test at Northrop Grumman’s test facility in Promontory, Utah. Watch a replay of the test on NASA Television or NASA’s YouTube channel. Learn more about the test at https://www.nasa.gov/media/flight-support-booster-test.html

SLS Booster Test Update: Scheduled Hold of Countdown

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1) test is in a scheduled hold of the countdown. The hold allows time for remaining personnel to evacuate the test area to their designated locations. The test team will also check motor temperatures and confirm data acquisition systems are ready to record. The test fire is scheduled for 1:05 MDT 3:05 p.m. EDT.

SLS Booster Test Update: NASA TV Coverage Underway

Live coverage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1) ground test has begun on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The test fire is scheduled to begin at 3:05 EDT. Systems checks are underway for the full-scale, five-segment solid rocket booster ground test at Northrop Grumman’s test facility on Promontory, Utah. This is the first in a series of tests that are examining motor performance for potential new materials and processes that may be incorporated in the booster after the Artemis III lunar mission.

Space Launch System Booster Test for Artemis Missions

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) will conduct a test of Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1) Sept. 2, 2020 at Northrop Grumman’s test facility in Promontory, Utah. Northrop Grumman manufactures the two five-segment solid rocket boosters that will provide more than 75 percent of the vehicle’s thrust for the first two minutes of ascent. Live coverage of the test will begin at 2:45 p.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

FSB-1 is a full-scale, five-segment solid rocket booster ground test that supports flights of NASA’s Space Launch System. This is the same model booster that will power the SLS rocket and Orion capsule on the Artemis I mission. The test is scheduled for 1:05 MDT,  3:05 p.m. EDT and has a planned duration of a little over 2 minutes, the same amount of time that the boosters power the rocket during liftoff and flight. The objective of the test is to confirm motor performance and manufacturing quality for potential new materials and processes that will be used in boosters supporting future Artemis missions.

More details about the FSB-1 test and SLS solid rocket boosters:

Orion Program Completes Key Review for Artemis I

NASA’s Orion Program has completed the System Acceptance Review and Design Certification Review to certify the Artemis I spacecraft is fit for flight, ready to venture from Earth to the lunar vicinity, and return home for landing and recovery.

The review examined every spacecraft system, all test data, inspection reports, and analyses that support verification, to ensure every aspect of the spacecraft has the right technical maturity.

In effect, the review gives the stamp of approval to the entire spacecraft development effort and is the final formal milestone to pass before integration with the Space Launch System rocket.

In addition to spacecraft design, the review certified all reliability and safety analyses, production quality and configuration management systems, and operations manuals.

Orion, the Space Launch System, and Exploration Ground Systems programs are foundational elements of the Artemis program, beginning with Artemis I, the first integrated flight test of Orion and SLS next year. Artemis II will follow as the first human mission, taking astronauts farther into space than ever before.

Final Launch Abort System Motor Arrives for Artemis II Crewed Mission

The Artemis II attitude control motor inside the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 28, 2020.
The attitude control motor for the Artemis II mission arrives in the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo credit NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The last of three motors required to assemble the Launch Abort System for NASA’s Artemis II mission–the first crewed mission of the Orion spacecraft–arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 28. The attitude control motor (ACM) was delivered by truck from Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility in Maryland, to the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at Kennedy.

During launch of Orion atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, the LAS motors work together to separate the spacecraft from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The LAS includes three motors – the launch abort motor, the jettison motor, and the attitude control motor—that once activated, will steer the spacecraft carrying the astronauts to safety. The launch abort and attitude control motors were manufactured by Northrop Grumman; the jettison motor was manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The ACM operates to keep Orion’s crew module on a controlled flight path in the event it needs to jettison and steer away from the rocket. It then reorients the crew module for parachute deployment and landing. The motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator, with eight proportional valves equally spaced around the outside of the 32-inch diameter motor. Together, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the crew module.

Inside the LASF, the motor will be placed on a special trailer for future integration with the rest of the LAS elements. It will remain in the LASF midbay, where the Artemis I LAS is being integrated with its designated crew and service module for its mission next year.

Artemis II is the first crewed flight in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will lay the foundation for exploration of Mars and beyond. Artemis II will confirm all of the Orion spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space with astronauts aboard. As part of the Artemis program, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024.

Eyes Forward as Artemis Missions Set to Begin Next Year

Jumping headfirst into the Artemis program has been one of the highlights in my transition as the associate administrator for human spaceflight. With an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was little time for a transition period as mission essential work needed to continue as safely as possible.

Already within my short time on the job, NASA is checking-off key milestones and marching swiftly toward Artemis I. That mission, the first uncrewed flight test of our powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, is just a little more than a year away from launch.

I remain incredibly impressed by our team’s commitment to landing the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024, and we all know that Artemis I is a critical step toward realizing that goal. A lot of the hard work is behind us, but it is not done yet. We’re gaining momentum– and it is tangible across the agency.

Already this year, NASA has finished modifications and upgrades to ready Launch Pad 39B at our Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the mission. Teams there have also:

  • Simulated portions of the launch countdown with a realistic run-through of the terminal count
  • Delivered the launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage and the upper stage of the rocket
  • Conducted an Orion recovery test in the Pacific Ocean, validating timelines for recovery operations
  • Practiced stacking operations with pathfinder segments for the solid rocket boosters
  • Received booster segments for the mission to begin processing for launch

The agency also completed a rigorous test campaign ahead of schedule on the Orion spacecraft, subjecting it to the extreme temperatures and electromagnetic conditions expected during flight. Orion is now in final assembly and checkout for launch, including installation of the spacecraft’s four solar arrays.

On the SLS side of the house, NASA completed structural testing on the upper part of the rocket and four core stages structures. The rocket’s core stage for the first mission is the last piece of hardware that remains to be delivered to Kennedy. It is currently secured in a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and has completed four of the eight tests in the Green Run test series.

We are currently working our way through the fifth test to check out the thrust vector controls and related hydraulics. While we keep an eye on hurricane season, we continue to strive to conduct the final test by the end of October with the current pace of testing. During that test, engineers will fire all four RS-25 engines simultaneously, aiming to drain the fueled tanks in eight minutes, just as during flight. After the hot fire test, crews will refurbish, inspect, and configure the stage for shipment to Kennedy. The next time the rocket’s engines ignite, Artemis I will be taking flight.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA also completed a detailed cost and schedule assessment for Artemis I and established a new agency commitment for launch readiness by November 2021. While it is too early to predict the full impact of COVID-19, we are confident a November 2021 date is achievable with the recent pace of progress, and a successful Green Run hot fire test will enable us to better predict a target launch date for the mission.

Taking this new launch readiness date into account, NASA also aligned the development costs for the SLS and Exploration Ground Systems programs through Artemis I and established new cost commitments. The new development baseline cost for SLS is $9.1 billion, and the commitment for the initial ground systems capability to support the mission is now $2.4 billion. NASA’s cost and schedule commitment for Orion currently remains within original targets and is tied to demonstrating the capability to fly crew on the Artemis II mission by 2023.

NASA has notified Congress of these new commitments, and we are working at the best possible pace toward launch, including streamlining operational flow at Kennedy and assessing opportunities to further improve the efficiency of our integration activities. Now that the majority of the design development is done, as well as the first time build and an extensive test program, a lot of effort is behind us. We are well into builds for future missions, and we are seeing significantly improved build rates, high quality work, and efficiencies across the board. Moving forward, we aim to continue to reduce production costs for the world’s most capable launch system, as we take on new challenges of our lunar exploration program.

We remain focused on the work ahead under the Artemis program, for the first SLS and Orion mission as well as future missions with crew, including Artemis III that will send the next astronauts to the surface of the Moon. With those kind of goals, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be working. And yet, Artemis plans are just one of many great things underway within human spaceflight and across the agency – with much more ahead.

NASA is on track to achieve great things with robots, technology and humans on and around the Moon. From the Moon, and soon to Mars, I hope you’re ready to jump in too.

-Kathy Lueders