The first piece of the Orion spacecraft’s pressure vessel for Artemis III – the mission that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 – has arrived at NASA. The cone panel that will house the windows astronauts will use to view the Moon was designed by Orion’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, and manufactured by AMRO Fabricating Corp., of South El Monte, California. It arrived at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on Aug. 21. In the coming months, the other six elements of the pressure vessel will arrive at Michoud where they will be welded together to build the underlying structure of Orion. The pressure vessel is Orion’s primary structure that holds the pressurized atmosphere astronauts will breathe and work in while in the vacuum of deep space. 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 crewed mission, taking humans farther into space than ever before.
The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.
The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.
As NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaches the Moon on the Artemis III mission to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface, the crew will get a glimpse through the spacecraft’s windows.
The first element machined for the Artemis III Orion crew module – a cone panel with openings for windows which will provide that spectacular view – was designed by Orion’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, and manufactured by AMRO Fabricating Corp., of South El Monte, California. The completed panel is on its way to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, where engineers will weld it with other panels as part of Orion’s pressure vessel.
Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are working to install an adapter that will connect the Orion spacecraft to its rocket for the Artemis I mission around the Moon. This is one of the final major hardware operations for Orion inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building prior to integration with the Space Launch System rocket.
The spacecraft adapter cone (seen at the bottom of the stack pictured above) connects to the bottom of Orion’s service module and will later join another adapter connected to the top of the rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage. During the process to install the cone on Orion, the spacecraft is lifted out of the Final Assembly and Systems Testing, or FAST, cell and placed into the Super Station support fixture.
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.
Engineers have completed testing on a duplicate of Orion called the Structural Test Article (STA), needed to verify the spacecraft is ready for Artemis I — its first uncrewed test flight. NASA and its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, built the STA to be structurally identical to Orion’s main spacecraft elements: the crew module, service module and launch abort system.
The STA testing required to qualify Orion’s design began in early 2017 and involved 20 tests, using six different configurations — from a single element, to the entire full stack — and various combinations in between. At completion, the testing verified Orion’s structural durability for all flight phases of Artemis I.
The Orion crew module and its adapter for the first crewed Artemis mission are undergoing testing and maintenance at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. On Artemis II, Orion will launch atop the Space Launch System rocket and carry astronauts around the Moon and back to Earth.
Parts of Orion’s Artemis III crew module that will carry the first woman and next man to land on the Moon are taking shape at AMRO Fabricating Corp. in California and Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. in Illinois.