Orion Spacecraft Goes ‘Shields Up’ for Artemis I

The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021.
The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are putting the final touches on the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission by connecting the ogive fairings for the launch abort system (LAS) assembly.  Pronounced oh-jive, the ogive fairings consist of four protective panels, and their installation will complete the LAS assembly.

Technicians and engineers from the center’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs recently finished attaching the launch abort tower to the top of the Orion crew module. They then began lifting and mating the lightweight fairings, which will shield the crew module from the severe vibrations and sounds it will experience during launch. One of the fairing panels has a hatch to allow access to the crew module before launch.

During Artemis missions, the 44-foot-tall LAS will detach from the spacecraft when it is no longer needed, shortly after launching on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, to lighten the journey to the Moon. Although the abort motors will not be active on the uncrewed Artemis I flight test, the system is intended to protect astronauts on future missions if a problem arises during launch or ascent by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket.

Once LAS installation is complete, the spacecraft will leave the Launch Abort System Facility and continue on its path to the pad, making its way to the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building to be integrated with the SLS rocket ahead of the launch.

Fueling Underway For Artemis I Launch

A view of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A view of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 18, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Teams with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, are fueling the Orion service module ahead of the Artemis I mission. The spacecraft currently resides in Kennedy’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility alongside the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS), the rocket’s upper stage that will send Orion to the Moon. After servicing, these elements will be integrated with the flight components of the Space Launch System, which are being assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Technicians began loading Orion’s service module with oxidizer, which will power the Orbital Maneuvering System main engine and auxiliary thrusters on the European-built service module ahead of propellant loading. These auxiliary thrusters stabilize and control the rotation of the spacecraft after it separates from the ICPS. Once the service module is loaded, teams will fuel the crew module to support thermal control of the internal avionics and the reaction control system. These 12 thrusters steady the crew module and control its rotation after separation from the service module.

Once Orion servicing is complete, teams will fill the ICPS. This liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system will push the spacecraft beyond the Moon for the test flight under the agency’s Artemis program. In several weeks, when fueling is complete, Orion will move to the center’s Launch Abort System Facility to integrate its launch abort system, and the ICPS will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be stacked atop the mobile launcher.

SLS Rocket Stage and Orion Share Space at Kennedy ahead of Artemis I

The ICPS is inside the Multi-Payload Process Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) moved into the Multi-Payload Processing Facility February 18, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the Artemis I mission. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) moved into the Multi-Payload Processing Facility February 18, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida alongside one of its flight partners for the Artemis I mission, the Orion spacecraft. Both pieces of hardware will undergo fueling and servicing in the facility ahead of launch by teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and their primary contractor, Jacobs Technology. The rocket stage and Orion will remain close during their journey to space.

The ICPS is moved into the Multi-Payload Process Facility on Feb. 18, 2021 at Kennedy Space Center.
The interim cryogenic propulsion stage is in view inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility on Feb. 18, 2021, at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Built by United Launch Alliance and Boeing, the ICPS will be positioned above the core stage and will provide the power needed to give Orion the big push it needs to break out of Earth orbit on a precise trajectory toward the Moon during Artemis I.

This is the first time since the shuttle program that two pieces of flight hardware have been processed inside this facility at the same time. Once final checkouts are complete, the ICPS and Orion will part ways on the ground and be reunited in the Vehicle Assembly Building for integration onto the SLS rocket.

Artemis I will be an integrated flight test of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft ahead of the crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface and establish a sustainable presence at the Moon to prepare for human missions to Mars.

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NASA “Meatball” Insignia and ESA Logo Added to Artemis I Fairings

The NASA and ESA insignias are in view on the Orion space adapter jettison fairing in the MPPF at Kennedy Space Center.
Artemis I extends NASA and ESA’s (European Space Agency) strong international partnership beyond low-Earth orbit to lunar exploration with Orion on Artemis missions, as the ESA logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

NASA’s Artemis I Orion spacecraft is being outfitted with additional artwork as technicians began installing the logo for ESA (European Space Agency). ESA provided the European-built service module, which provides power and propulsion for the Orion spacecraft, and will also provide water and air for astronauts on future missions.

The NASA and ESA insignias are in view on the Orion spacecraft adapter jettison fairing inside the MPPF at Kennedy Space Center.
The ESA (European Space Agency) logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch. Orion is currently stationed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Artemis I extends NASA and ESA’s strong international partnership beyond low-Earth orbit to lunar exploration with Orion on Artemis missions. The ESA logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch.

Orion is currently stationed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility, where it will undergo fueling and servicing by NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs Technology teams in preparation for the upcoming flight test with the Space Launch System rocket under the agency’s Artemis program.

Artemis I Orion Moves For Fueling, Next Step in Launch Preparations

Orion is buttoned up and ready to march towards the Multi-Payload Processing Facility to begin ground processing by the Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs teams ahead of the Artemis I launch. Shielded by a protective covering for transport, the spacecraft departs its home at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 16, 2021.
Orion is buttoned up and ready to march towards the Multi-Payload Processing Facility to begin ground processing by the Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs teams ahead of the Artemis I launch. Shielded by a protective covering for transport, the spacecraft departs its home at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 16, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA marked another milestone on the path toward the launch of Artemis I on Saturday, as engineers moved the Orion spacecraft out of the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building on its way to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the spacecraft will be fueled for its mission around the Moon.

The milestone marked completion of years of assembly and testing operations for the spacecraft and formal transfer of the spacecraft from the Orion Program and its prime contractor Lockheed Martin to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team responsible for processing the vehicle, integrating it with the Space Launch System rocket, and launching them on their inaugural mission together.

The spacecraft was moved out of the O&C aboard a transport pallet and air bearing system which sits on top of a transporter. In the MPPF, it will be moved into a service stand that provides 360-degree access, allowing engineers and technicians from EGS, its lead contractor Jacobs Technology, and other support organizations to fuel and service the spacecraft. Crane operators will remove the transportation cover and use fuel lines and several fluid ground support equipment panels to load the various gases and fluids into the crew and service modules.

After Orion is fueled and engineers perform final checks in the MPPF, they will move the spacecraft to the Launch Abort System Facility, where EGS will install the Launch Abort System tower and the ogive panels that protect the crew module and LAS and provide its aerodynamic shape.

Orion is a critical component for NASA’s deep space exploration plans. During Artemis I, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown – 280,000 miles from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week mission.

Orion Test Articles Arrive to Kennedy for Testing on Future Artemis Missions

NASA’s Super Guppy arrives at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility in Florida on Sept. 11, 2020, carrying the Orion Service Module Structural Test Article (SM-STA). Photo credit: NASA/Yulista Tactical Services, LLC/Tommy Quijas

The Orion Service Module Structural Test Article (SM-STA), composed of the European Service Module (ESM) and Crew Module Adapter (CMA), arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida following the completion of the test campaign to certify the Orion Service Module for Artemis I. Transported via Super Guppy from Lockheed Martin’s test facility in Denver, Colorado, on Sept. 11, components will now be used in testing for future Artemis missions.

“The Orion SM-STA supported testing in multiple configurations to validate the structural robustness of the vehicle under a variety of conditions that a spacecraft will experience on lunar missions for the Artemis program,” said Rafael Garcia, Orion Test and Verification lead.

At Kennedy, the Orion SM-STA test article will be separated from the CMA test article, and portions of the CMA test article will support qualifications tests in preparation for the Artemis II mission. The test version of the ESM will remain at Kennedy, in order to support future structural qualification tests such as testing what volume of sound and how much shaking the vehicle can handle for future Artemis missions.

When tested together, the full test stack of Orion verified the spacecraft’s structural durability for all flight phases of the Artemis I flight, which is designed to be an opportunity to test the kind of maneuvers and environments the spacecraft will see on future exploration missions. The test structures experienced launch and entry loads tests, intense acoustic vibration force, and shock tests that recreate the powerful blasts needed for critical separation events during flight. A lightning test was performed to evaluate potential flight hardware damage if the vehicle were to be hit by lightning prior to launch.

The Artemis II flight will test a hybrid free return trajectory, which uses the Moon’s gravitational pull as a slingshot to put Orion on the return path home instead of using propulsion. With astronauts aboard the spacecraft, additional validation is required of all vehicle components to certify the capsule prior to proving lunar sustainability with Artemis III and beyond.

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.

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.