Mobile Launcher’s Crew Access Arm Successfully Tested

Crew Access Arm Testing
Technicians and engineers in Exploration Ground Systems at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently tested the Crew Access Arm (CAA) that was added on the mobile launcher being prepared to support the agency’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

As astronauts prepare for trips to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, their last steps before boarding an Orion spacecraft will be across the Crew Access Arm (CAA) on the mobile launcher.

Earlier this year, the CAA was added to the mobile launcher being prepared to support NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the largest in the world. Technicians and engineers in Exploration Ground Systems at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center recently tested the crucial arm, confirming it worked as designed.

The test was designed to determine the functionality and integrity of the CAA and supporting mobile launcher systems.

“This was the first functional swing testing for the Crew Access Arm,” said Cliff Lanham, Mobile Launcher Project Manager at Kennedy. “Prior to testing, we checked the mechanical attachment, hydraulics and cabling to make sure we had confidence it would work properly.”

380-foot-tall mobile launcher tower
The crew access arm is located at the 274-foot level on the 380-foot-tall mobile launcher tower. The CAA will rotate from its retracted position and interface with the Space Launch System rocket at the Orion crew hatch location to provide entry in and exit from the spacecraft.
Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The CAA is designed to rotate from its retracted position and line up with Orion’s crew hatch. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into and out of the Orion spacecraft.

In advance of those missions, the Exploration Ground Systems team at Kennedy has been overseeing testing of umbilicals and other launch accessories on the 380-foot-tall mobile launcher in preparation for stacking the first launch of the SLS rocket with Orion.
During the test, there were several moves of the arm controlled by systems on the mobile launcher. The test also was important because of the upcoming move of the mobile launcher from its park site to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

“The CAA will be extended when it goes inside the VAB,” Lanham said. “We cannot rotate the arm once in the VAB due to space constraints.”

Testing inside the VAB is designed to ensure all systems work properly in connection with the building prior to stacking the first SLS and Orion for Exploration Mission-1. EM-1 will be the first unpiloted flight of the new NASA spacecraft traveling 280,000 miles from Earth well beyond the Moon.

Navy Divers Rehearse Orion Underway Recovery at Johnson Space Center

Divers train for Orion underway recovery in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.A group of U.S. Navy divers, Air Force pararescuemen and Coast Guard rescue swimmers are practicing Orion underway recovery techniques this week in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to prepare for the first test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft with the agency’s Space Launch System rocket during Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).

Training in the NBL began Sept. 20 and will wrap up by Sept. 22.

A test version of the Orion spacecraft was lowered into the water in the NBL. Divers wearing scuba gear used ground support equipment and zodiac boats to swim or steer to the test spacecraft. They placed a flotation collar around Orion and practiced using the new tow cleat modifications that will allow the tether lines to be connected to the capsule. The tether lines are being used to simulate towing Orion into the well deck of a Navy recovery ship.

Training at the NBL will help the team prepare for Underway Recovery Test 5 (URT-5), which will be the first major integrated test in a series of tests to prepare the recovery team, hardware and operations to support EM-1 recovery.

The recovery team, engineers with NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations program and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, are preparing for URT-5, which will take place in San Diego and aboard the USS San Diego in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California in October.

During EM-1, Orion will travel about 40,000 miles beyond the moon and return to Earth after a three-week mission to test the spacecraft’s systems and heat shield. Orion will travel through the radiation of the Van Allen Belts, descend through Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Photo credit: NASA/James Blair