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.
NASA Astronauts Stephanie Wilson, Jonny Kim, and Randy Bresnik take a look at the Orion spacecraft simulator that recently arrived at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The simulator provides the ability for astronauts, engineers, and flight controllers to train and practice for scenarios during Artemis missions to the Moon. The interior of the simulator is being outfitted with Orion’s display and control system and crew seats to mimic what astronaut will experience during liftoff to the lunar vicinity and on their way back home to Earth.
Kim and Wilson are among the 18 astronauts recently named to the Artemis Team of astronauts eligible to be selected for Artemis missions to the Moon. Bresnik is currently the assistant to the chief of the astronaut office for exploration. NASA is targeting 2023 for Artemis II, the first mission with crew, with the Orion Spacecraft set to launch atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. The mission will send astronauts around the Moon and return them back to Earth, a flight that will set the stage for the first woman and next man to step foot on the Moon in 2024.
During final assembly of the Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers identified an issue with a redundant channel on one of the spacecraft’s Power and Data Unit (PDU) communication cards. Orion has a total of eight PDUs, each of which has two cards with two redundant channels on each card that help provide communication between Orion’s flight computers to its components.
As a spacecraft designed to carry humans to deep space, Orion is built with significantly more redundancy to protect against failures than a robotic spacecraft. The PDU is still fully functional and will use its primary channel during the Artemis I mission, which is a non-crewed test flight.
During their troubleshooting, engineers evaluated the option to “use as is” with the high-degree of available redundancy or remove and replace the box. They determined that due to the limited accessibility to this particular box, the degree of intrusiveness to the overall spacecraft systems, and other factors, the risk of collateral damage outweighed the risk associated with the loss of one leg of redundancy in a highly redundant system. Therefore, NASA has made the decision to proceed with vehicle processing.
NASA has confidence in the health of the overall power and data system, which has been through thousands of hours of powered operations and testing. Engineers will perform additional testing and continue to monitor the health of the spacecraft while Orion is powered on to provide continued confidence in the system.
NASA will proceed with spacecraft processing, and engineers are currently completing final closeout activities and will transfer the spacecraft in mid-January from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility for fueling and preparation for integration with the Space Launch System rocket. The new timeline does not impact the launch schedule, and NASA remains on track for a launch in November 2021.
Check back at this blog for more updates as Orion prepares for its transition from assembly to launch operations.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission is completing final assembly at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Engineers recently installed the three spacecraft jettison fairing panels to protect the European Service Module and the forward bay cover, which protects the upper part of Orion including its parachutes throughout its mission. While powering up the spacecraft to prepare for the pressurization of the crew module uprighting system, which ensures the capsule is oriented upward after splashdown, engineers identified an issue with a redundant channel in a power and data unit (PDU) on Orion’s crew module adapter. The team is continuing with other closeout activities while troubleshooting the issue, including installation of temporary covers to ensure components are protected during ground processing and fit checks for bonded tile on the crew module side hatch. Following a resolution of the issue, NASA will transfer Orion from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility where the spacecraft will undergo fueling ahead of stacking with the launch abort system. Check back at this blog for an update and adjusted dates for Orion’s transfer.
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.
Technicians with the lead contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin, adhered the NASA insignia, known as the “meatball,” and an American Flag to the back shell of the spacecraft’s crew module for Artemis I. Final assemblies are well underway for Orion as teams progress toward next year’s launch. The spacecraft will soon be fueled and fitted with the launch abort system and other ground system elements in preparation to take its place atop the powerful Space Launch System rocket.
NASA’s Artemis program has sparked excitement around the world and catalyzed new interest in exploring the Moon as the agency prepares to land the first woman and next man on the lunar South Pole in 2024. After that, NASA and its growing list of global partners will establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.
NASA will build on the momentum of that human return mission in four years and plans to send crew to the Moon about once per year thereafter. To give astronauts a place to live and work on the Moon, the agency’s Artemis Base Camp concept includes a modern lunar cabin, a rover and even a mobile home. Early missions will include short surface stays, but as the base camp evolves, the goal is to allow crew to stay at the lunar surface for up to two months at a time.
“On each new trip, astronauts are going to have an increasing level of comfort with the capabilities to explore and study more of the Moon than ever before,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With more demand for access to the Moon, we are developing the technologies to achieve an unprecedented human and robotic presence 240,000 miles from home. Our experience on the Moon this decade will prepare us for an even greater adventure in the universe – human exploration of Mars.”
Where to stay
Crew will return to the lunar surface for the first time this century beginning with the Artemis III mission. From lunar orbit, two astronauts will take the first new ride to the surface of the Moon, landing where no humans have ever been: the lunar South Pole. This is the ideal location for a future base camp given its potential access to ice and other mineral resources.
On the first few missions, the human landing system will double as lunar lodging, offering life support systems to support a short crew stay on the Moon. In the future, NASA envisions a fixed habitat at the Artemis Base Camp that can house up to four astronauts for a month-long stay.
Since 2016, NASA has worked with several companies on their habitation systems and designs, assessing internal layouts, environmental control and life support systems, and outer structure options, including rigid shells, expandable designs, and hybrid concepts. The agency is currently working with industry to refine ideas for a combination home and office in orbit, recently testing full-size prototypes.
What to wear
Even with minimal surface support in place on early missions, astronauts will embark on at least a week-long expedition on the Moon. Crew will work by day in their modern spacesuits – using new tools to collect samples and setting up a variety of experiments.
These next generation spacesuits will provide increased mobility, modern communications and a more robust life support system than its Apollo predecessors. With improved functionality and movement, crew can conduct more complex experiments and collect more unique geologic samples.
NASA is building the new suits for the initial lunar landing and will transition the design and manufacturing to Industry for follow-on production.
Traveling in style
NASA has proposed two lunar surface transportation systems: a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) and a mobile home and office referred to as a habitable mobility platform.
The LTV will be an unpressurized, or open-top vehicle, that astronauts can drive in their spacesuits for more than 12 miles from a camp site. Earlier this year, NASA asked American companies to send ideas to develop an LTV that handle the rough surface of the Moon as well as push the boundaries of power generation and energy storage. The agency is evaluating those responses and hopes to leverage innovations in commercial all-terrain vehicles, military rovers and more. Such a vehicle may also be autonomous and capable of driving on pre-programmed paths or could be operated remotely from Earth to conduct additional science and exploration activities.
In addition to the LTV, a pressurized rover will greatly expand lunar surface exploration capabilities to the next level. Pressurization means that astronauts can be in the vehicle in their regular clothing as opposed to wearing their spacesuit inside too. This will provide more comfort to work as they cross the lunar terrain in their mobile habitat and explore large areas. When they’re ready to go outside to collect samples or set up experiments, they would need to put their spacesuits on again.
NASA is in the early idea stage for a pressurized rover – formulating concepts and evaluating potential science and exploration rover missions around the South Pole.
What to do
Breakthrough discoveries from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite have shown the Moon is rich with resources, such as ice and greater than average access to light, which could support Artemis explorers and provide new opportunities for scientific discoveries and commercial enterprising activities. The unexplored south polar region provides unique opportunities to unlock scientific secrets about the history and evolution of the Earth and Moon, as well as our solar system.
Harvesting lunar resources could lead to safer, more efficient operations with less dependence on supplies delivered from Earth. NASA plans to send the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the lunar South Pole before crew. Arriving via a commercial Moon delivery, mobile robot will get a close-up view of the distribution and concentration of ice that could eventually be harvested to support human exploration farther into the solar system. We will learn how to spend more time on the lunar surface as well as prepare to future trips to Mars by conducting life science research and learning to mitigate hazards associated with space exploration.
What to know
The Sun hovers over the lunar South Pole horizon continuously throughout the day and year, providing a near-constant source of energy for solar power opportunities. There is no single location, however, that avoids periods of darkness. This means NASA must plan for early Artemis systems to survive the extremely cold environment without power, to build in the capability to store power for up to eight days.
For longer-term work trips to the Artemis Base Camp, NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative is working with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense to develop a nuclear fission surface power unit that can continuously provide 10 kW of power – the average annual power consumption of a home here on Earth. This small power plant will be able to power and recharge the other basic elements of the Artemis Base Camp and allow greater flexibility for mission planning by easing the requirement for continuous access to sunlight in a distinct location during a specific timeframe.
What to pack
While NASA will need to bring or send ahead all the supplies it needs for early Artemis missions, the agency wants to know what others would pack for their trips to the Moon. It’s not too late to submit photos of your #NASAMoonKit online.
This decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface. As our lunar presence grows with the help of commercial and international partners, someday the Moon could be the ultimate destination for all to explore.
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.
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.
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.