Mobile Launcher Arrives at Launch Pad 39B for Tests, Preps for Artemis I

The Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs teams rolled the mobile launcher, atop crawler-transporter 2, out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for its slow trek to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 20.

The roll began just after midnight, and the mobile launcher arrived at the top of the pad Tuesday morning. This trek to the pad will help prepare the launch team for the actual wet dress rehearsal and launch of SLS and Orion on Artemis I next year. The wet dress rehearsal is when SLS and Orion will be rolled out to the pad atop the mobile launcher to practice fueling operations a couple months before launch. The last time the mobile launcher was rolled to the pad was in December 2019.

During its two-week stay at the pad, engineers will perform several tasks, including a timing test to validate the launch team’s countdown timeline, and a thorough, top-to-bottom wash down of the mobile launcher to remove any debris remaining from construction and installation of the umbilical arms.

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Orion Solar Array Wing Installation Complete for Artemis I

Artemis I Orion Solar Wing Installation Complete

Teams from NASA, Lockheed Martin, the European Space Agency (ESA), Airbus Defence, and Airbus Netherlands have completed the meticulous installation of Orion’s four solar array wings. The arrays will supply energy to the service module that will power and propel the spacecraft during NASA’s Artemis I mission. They were fitted onto the European Service Module (ESM) inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Activities on the spacecraft continue to move forward — the next set of final installations include the spacecraft adapter jettison fairings, which enclose the service module, and forward bay cover, protecting the upper part of Orion including its parachutes throughout its mission. Once complete, the spacecraft will begin its journey through Kennedy to be integrated with its launch abort system and ultimately, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for launch from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

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Artemis I Networks for Communication and Navigation

Artemis I will demonstrate NASA’s networks’ comprehensive services for journeys to lunar orbit. The mission requires all three of NASA’s major networks to work in tandem, providing different communications and tracking service levels as Orion leaves Earth, orbits the Moon, and returns safely home.

Communications services allow flight controllers in mission control centers to send commands to the spacecraft and receive data from Orion and SLS systems. Tracking, or navigation, services enable the flight controllers to see where the spacecraft are along their trajectory through space.

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SLS Core Stage Passes Simulated Countdown Test

Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, completed a simulated launch countdown sequence on Oct. 5 for the sixth test of the eight-part core stage Green Run test series for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The rocket’s core stage has three flight computers and avionics systems to help launch and guide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon. During the simulated countdown, NASA engineers and technicians, along with prime contractors Boeing, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, monitored the stage to validate the timeline and sequence of events leading up to the test, which is similar to the countdown for the Artemis I launch.

The countdown sequence for an actual Artemis launch begins roughly two days prior to liftoff. In addition to all the procedures leading up to the ignition of the four RS-25 engines, the SLS core stage requires about six hours to fully load fuel into the two liquid propellant tanks. The simulated countdown sequence test at Stennis began at the 48-hour mark as if the stage was first powered up before liftoff. Engineers then skipped ahead in the sequence to monitor the stage and procedures of the stage 10 minutes before the hot fire. The simulated countdown sequence is one of the final tests of the SLS Green Run campaign. The series of tests is designed to gradually bring the rocket stage and all its systems to life for the first time.

Artemis I Rocket and Spacecraft Receive “Worm” Welcome

NASA worm and ESA logo on Orion spacecraft

NASA is headed back to the Moon as part of the Artemis program – and the agency’s “worm” logo will be along for the ride on the first integrated mission of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have applied the historic logo in bright red on visible parts of the Artemis I rocket and spacecraft.

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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.

Artemis I Preparations Stack Up

Technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems rehearse booster stacking operations inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, Sept.14, in preparation for the Artemis I launch. The team is using full-scale replicas of booster segments, referred to as pathfinders, for the practice exercise in one of the tallest sections, or high bays, of the VAB built for stacking rockets. As part of the rehearsal, a pathfinder for an aft segment, the very bottom of the stack, was prepared in High Bay 4. Then, a team of crane operators moved the segment into High Bay 3, where it was placed on the mobile launcher. Careful measurements were taken before the team added a center segment to the stack.

The actual Space Launch System (SLS) booster segments will be stacked on the mobile launcher later this year, following completion of Green Run testing of the rocket’s core stage – a series of eight tests taking place at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

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.

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.