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.

Orion’s ‘Twin’ Completes Structural Testing for Artemis I Mission

The Orion structural test article forward bay cover jettison testing in progress at Lockheed Martin near Denver.

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.

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Hardware on the Move for Artemis II

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.

The Orion capsule that will fly astronauts on the Artemis II mission.
This Orion crew module adapter that will connect the capsule to the Space Launch System rocket.