Orion Makes a Big Splash for Artemis II

The Orion spacecraft structural test article was successfully drop tested April 6 in the hyrdro impact basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia. Data collected from 500 sensors during the drop will help researchers finalize computer models of extreme landing conditions prior to Artemis II. This was the second of four drops in this series of tests.


Under Pressure! New Rainbird System Will Protect Artemis II

Water spraying out of a nozzle for rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Water flows through a small-scale, 3D-printed nozzle during prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

As NASA prepares for the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, teams at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center are also hard at work getting ready for the Artemis II mission that will send astronauts on a trip around the Moon ahead of a crewed lunar landing.

Water flows through large nozzles during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 24, 2021, that can be used for the crewed Artemis II mission to the Moon. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

This includes assessing a new prototype “rainbird” system designed to protect the mobile launcher – as well as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – when the engines roar to life. The March 24 tests included running various water pressures through small-scale, 3D-printed nozzles to capture data that can be used to develop full-scale hardware.

The rainbirds will release enough water to fill 40 swimming pools in 40 seconds. This massive volume will help absorb the heat and energy when SLS, the most powerful rocket the agency has ever built, lifts off with the Orion spacecraft from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

While upgraded rainbirds – large-scale water nozzles – have already been tested and installed on the mobile launcher for the Artemis I launch, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) found room for improvement. This led teams from EGS and supporting contractors to start testing another prototype system to distribute water more evenly to maximize performance ahead of the Artemis II launch.

Water flows through a nozzle during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Alongside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

“By running our prototype through a range of pressures, we can simulate what each of the rainbirds will see on the mobile launcher on launch day and have a better understanding of how they will perform when we scale them back up to full size,” said Dave Valletta, a design engineer at Kennedy working on the ignition overpressure protection and sound suppression (IOPSS) system.

A critical piece of the IOPSS system, the rainbird got its name decades ago when space shuttle developers noted that it looked like a garden sprayer.

“When we saw the pattern of the water discharge during the first test flow in the shuttle program, it reminded us of your common lawn sprinkler, only it did not rotate and was 100 times the size,” said Jerry Smith, a design engineer for mechanical-fluid systems at Kennedy.

Once prototype testing is complete, allowing better prediction of future spray patterns, the team will move forward with designing a preferred concept. That concept will be built and installed on the mobile launcher to undergo verification and validation testing, where the newly installed nozzles will be fully integrated with the launch pad to ensure they work as expected.

“The confidence check gained from these tests will lead us to developing full-scale nozzles for the mobile launcher,” said Gerald Patterson, IOPSS and fire suppression system operations engineer and test lead. “Once installed, they’ll provide more efficient water distribution across the deck and, ultimately, better protection to ground systems, the SLS rocket, and its crew for Artemis II and beyond.”

NASA Begins Major Assembly of Rocket Stage for First Crewed Artemis Mission

The NASA team is moving parts of the Space Launch System rocket to begin assembly of the forward, or upper part, of the rocket’s core stage for the Artemis II Moon mission. On March 19, the intertank was moved to the vertical assembly area at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where the core stage is manufactured. The intertank flight hardware is part of the upper portion of the core stage that will help power Artemis II, the second flight of the deep space rocket and the first crewed lunar mission of NASA’s Artemis program.

Space Launch System rocket’s intertank
The Space Launch System rocket’s intertank is the first piece of the upper part of the core stage to be moved for stacking in the vehicle assembly area at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

To form the massive, 212-foot-tall core stage for the agency’s Moon rocket, five major structures are joined together: the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and engine section. NASA and Boeing, the core stage prime contractor, are preparing to connect three structures together to create the forward assembly of the core stage. The process of stacking and assembling the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, and intertank is called the forward join, and it is the first major vertical integration of hardware for the Artemis II core stage. The intertank is first installed in a vertical stacking cell at Michoud. Later, teams will move the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt to the same area to stack the three structures together.

Ifographic on forward joinThe intertank contains avionics that are the “brains” of the rocket. It also serves as one of the main attach points for the twin solid rocket boosters that work with the core stage to send SLS to space. The core stage will supply propellant and power to the four RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage to produce the remaining 2 million pounds of thrust needed to send the Artemis II mission to orbit.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon. SLS and Orion, along with ground systems at Kennedy, the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission. (NASA image)

NASA, Canadian Space Agency Formalize Gateway Partnership for Artemis Program

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) finalized an agreement between the United States and Canada to collaborate on the Gateway, an outpost orbiting the Moon that will provide vital support for a sustainable, long-term return of astronauts to the lunar surface as part of NASA’s Artemis program. This Gateway agreement further solidifies the broad effort by the United States to engage international partners in sustainable lunar exploration as part of the Artemis program and to demonstrate technologies needed for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, CSA will provide the Gateway’s external robotics system, including a next-generation robotic arm, known as Canadarm3. CSA also will provide robotic interfaces for Gateway modules, which will enable payload installation including that of the first two scientific instruments aboard the Gateway. The agreement also marks NASA’s commitment to provide two crew opportunities for Canadian astronauts on Artemis missions, one to the Gateway and one on Artemis II.

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SLS Rocket Core Stages Taking Shape for Artemis II and III

Technicians are simultaneously manufacturing NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stages for the Artemis II and Artemis III lunar missions at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The core stage for the deep space rocket consists of two huge propellant tanks, four RS-25 engines, and miles of cabling for the avionics systems and flight computers. All the main core stage structures for Artemis II, the first mission with astronauts, have been built and are being outfitted with electronics, feedlines, propulsion systems, and other components. Engineers are welding the core stage structures for the Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface, through a process called friction stir welding. The manufacturing progress for Artemis II and III comes as the first core stage for the SLS rocket undergoes Green Run testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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Orion Test Article Ready to Make Another Splash for Artemis

The Orion spacecraft Structural Test Article (STA) completed its cross-country road trip Tuesday to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in preparation for a series of water impact tests at the center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility.

Data from the upcoming drop tests in 2021 will be used for final computer modeling for loads and structures prior to the Artemis II flight test, NASA’s first mission with crew. Artemis II will carry astronauts around the Moon and back, and will pave the way to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface during Artemis III.

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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 Plan to Land First Woman, Next Man on Moon in 2024

Following a series of critical contract awards and hardware milestones, an update on NASA’s Artemis program is now available, including the latest Phase 1 plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024.

In the 18 months since NASA accepted a bold challenge to accelerate its exploration plans by more than four years and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade, the agency has continued to gain momentum toward sending humans to the Moon again for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

The document captures Artemis progress to date, identifying the key science, technology and human missions as well as the commercial and international partnerships that will ensure we continue to lead in exploration and achieve our ambitious goal to land astronauts on the Moon.

>>Download and read the Artemis Plan

Heat Shield Milestone for First Artemis Mission with Crew

Image Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft set to carry astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II.

The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when coming home from lunar velocities.

Prior to installation, several large blocks of the ablative material called AVCOAT were produced at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They were then shipped to Kennedy and machined into 186 unique smaller blocks before being applied by the technicians onto the heat shield’s underlying titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin.

To continue preparing the heat shield, engineers will conduct non-destructive evaluations to look for voids in the bond lines, as well as measure the steps and gaps between the blocks. The gaps will be filled with adhesive material and then reassessed. The heat shield will then undergo a thermal test after which it will be sealed, painted and then taped to help weather on-orbit thermal conditions. Once all testing has been completed, later this year the heat shield will be installed and bolted to the crew module.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Orion, along with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission of Orion atop the SLS rocket.

Artemis II Orion Stage Adapter Taking Shape

Technicians at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, move panels for the Artemis II Orion stage adapter to a large robotic, welding machine.

Three panels for the Artemis II Orion stage adapter were built by AMRO Fabricating Corp. in South El Monte, California and shipped to Marshall where engineers and technicians from NASA are joining them using a sophisticated friction-stir welding process to form the Orion stage adapter. This critical part of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will send the Artemis II crew into lunar orbit. AMRO also built panels for the Artemis II launch vehicle stage adapter also currently being built at Marshall and the SLS core stage and the Orion crew module built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. All panels where joined with the same friction-stir welding process. The Artemis I Orion stage adapter, also built at Marshall, has been delivered to Kennedy Space Center where it will be stacked with the rest of the SLS rocket components.  The adapter connects the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, the rocket’s upper stage that sends Orion to the Moon, to the Orion spacecraft. The Orion stage adapter has space for small payloads; on Artemis I it will transport 13 small satellites to deep space where they can study everything from asteroids to the Moon and radiation. SLS, the world’s most powerful rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.