NASA and the U.S. Navy are preparing to head out to sea for the ninth in a series of tests to verify and validate procedures and hardware that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean following deep space exploration missions.
During the weeklong test, the joint team will conduct simulations that will exercise all the operational procedures, including nighttime, to support certification of team members for the Artemis I mission. The team will practice recovering a test version of an Orion capsule and bringing it into the well deck of a Navy ship, ensuring all personnel are properly trained before the real Orion splashes down.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to the Moon and destinations not yet explored by humans. It is slated to launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on its first deep space mission to pave the way for future flights with astronauts.
A nine-month demolition project for the 25-foot high, 160-foot long, and 135-foot-wide platform, which weighed 9.1 million pounds, was completed last month. Though MLP-2 was a historic piece of equipment, its removal makes way for newer, more advanced technology at the Florida spaceport.
“It was bittersweet having to dismantle MLP-2,” said John Giles, Exploration Ground Systems crawler transporter operations manager. “However, it allows us to make room for newer, more advanced assets to support Artemis missions that will return humans to the Moon and beyond.”
Mobile launcher platforms were used for shuttle missions lifting off from Launch Complex 39A and 39B. These structures did not require a tower since the launch pad had a tower and rotating service structure to allow access to the vehicle.
Since the retirement of the shuttle program, the historic Launch Complex 39A, once the site of Apollo and Saturn V missions, was leased to SpaceX and upgraded to support commercial launches carrying cargo and astronauts into space.
Launch Complex 39B also has changed with the times. It began as an Apollo era structure, was converted for shuttle launches, and now is a clean pad ready to support the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, carrying the Orion spacecraft as the agency returns to the Moon. When SLS lifts off from pad 39B carrying Orion for the Artemis I mission, it will use the new, advanced mobile launcher that comes with a built-in tower.
Click here to watch a time-lapse video of the MLP-2 demolition.
Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs successfully completed the Umbilical Release and Retract Test on Sept. 19 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for the Artemis I mission.
The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant, and fuel to the rocket and the Orion spacecraft while at the launch pad until they disconnect and retract at ignition and liftoff.
“Previous testing at the Launch Equipment Test Facility and in the VAB refined our designs and processes and validated the subsystems individually, and for Artemis I, we wanted to prove our new systems would work together to support launch,” said Jerry Daun, Jacobs Arms and Umbilical Systems Operations Manager.
“This test is important because the next time these ground umbilical systems are used will be the day of the Artemis I launch,” said Scott Cieslak, umbilical operations and testing technical lead.
Teams will continue conducting tests inside the VAB before transporting the Orion spacecraft to the assembly building and stacking it atop the SLS, completing assembly of the rocket for the Artemis I mission.
“It was a great team effort to build, and now test, these critical systems,” said Peter Chitko, arms and umbilicals integration manager. “This test marked an important milestone because each umbilical must release from its connection point at T-0 to ensure the rocket and spacecraft can lift off safely.”
Artemis I will be the first integrated test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. In later Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone on the way to Mars.
Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are putting the final touches on the Orionspacecraft for the Artemis I mission by connecting the ogive fairings for the launch abort system (LAS) assembly. Pronounced oh-jive, the ogive fairings consist of four protective panels, and their installation will complete the LAS assembly.
Technicians and engineers from the center’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs recently finished attaching the launch abort tower to the top of the Orion crew module. They then began lifting and mating the lightweight fairings, which will shield the crew module from the severe vibrations and sounds it will experience during launch. One of the fairing panels has a hatch to allow access to the crew module before launch.
During Artemis missions, the 44-foot-tall LAS will detach from the spacecraft when it is no longer needed, shortly after launching on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, to lighten the journey to the Moon. Although the abort motors will not be active on the uncrewed Artemis I flight test, the system is intended to protect astronauts on future missions if a problem arises during launch or ascent by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket.
Once LAS installation is complete, the spacecraft will leave the Launch Abort System Facility and continue on its path to the pad, making its way to the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building to be integrated with the SLS rocket ahead of the launch.
Ahead of the Artemis I lunar-bound mission, teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center joined the launch abort tower to the Orion spacecraft on July 23. Working inside the spaceport’s Launch Abort System Facility, engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, lifted the system above the spacecraft and coupled it with the crew module.
The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket. Although there will be no crew Artemis I, the launch abort system will collect flight data during the ascent to space and then jettison from the spacecraft.
Next, teams will install four ogives – the protective panels that shield the upper portion of the spacecraft during its entry into orbit. Once final checkouts are complete, Orion will be integrated with the Space Launch System rocket.
The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission recently completed fueling and servicing checks while inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule has now made it to its next stop on the path to the pad – the spaceport’s Launch Abort System Facility.
Crowning the spacecraft with its aerodynamic shape, the launch abort system is designed to pull crew away to safety from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in the event of an emergency during launch. This capability was successfully tested during the Orion Pad Abort and Ascent Abort-2 tests and approved for use during crewed missions.
Teams with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs will work to add parts of the launch abort system onto the spacecraft. Technicians will install four panels that make up the fairing assembly and protect the spacecraft from heat, air, and acoustic environments during launch and ascent. A launch tower will top the fairing assembly to house the pyrotechnics and a jettison motor. The system will also be outfitted with instruments to record key flight data for later study.
With successful demonstration of the system during previous tests, the abort motor that pulls the spacecraft away from the rocket and attitude control motor that steers the spacecraft for a splashdown during an abort will not be functional for the uncrewed Artemis I mission. The jettison motor will be equipped to separate the system from Orion in flight once it is no longer needed, making Orion thousands of pounds lighter for the journey to the Moon.
Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be a test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under Artemis, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish long-term lunar exploration.
The ICPS’s RL 10 engine is housed inside the launch vehicle stage adapter, which will protect the engine during launch. The adapter connects the rocket’s core stage with the ICPS, which was built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance.
The ICPS will fire its RL 10 engine to send the Orion spacecraft toward the Moon. Its European-built service module will provide the power to take the spacecraft on a journey tens of thousands of miles beyond the Moon.
Before attaching the Orion spacecraft to the rocket, teams will conduct a series of tests to assure all the rocket components are properly communicating with each other, the ground systems equipment, and the Launch Control Center.
The ICPS moved to the VAB on June 19, after technicians in the center’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility completed servicing the flight hardware inside.
Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of missions with astronauts. Under Artemis, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish a long-lasting presence on and around the Moon while preparing for human missions to Mars.
The adapter is the cone shaped piece that connects the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), which will provide the Orion spacecraft with the additional thrust needed to travel tens of thousands of miles beyond the Moon. Up next, the ICPS will be lifted from the VAB floor onto the stage adapter.
Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead missions with astronauts. Through the series of Artemis missions, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish a long-lasting presence on and around the Moon while preparing for human missions to Mars.
The Orion spacecraft receives another iconic NASA “worm” logo ahead of the Artemis I mission. On April 28 teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and lead contractor Jacobs completed painting the retro insignia on the outboard wall of the spacecraft’s crew module adapter (CMA) – the piece of hardware connecting the crew module to the European-built service module – inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
While a decal of the historic logo was added to the underside of the CMA in September 2020, having it painted on the siding of the spacecraft will make it visible as the spacecraft is poised atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, awaiting liftoff from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.
The worm logo was officially introduced in 1975, retired in 1992, and then made a comeback in 2020, just as NASA entered a new era of human spaceflight. In addition to its appearance on the CMA, the bright red logo also was painted on the SLS twin solid rocket boosters in August 2020.
The Orion spacecraft and Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – the upper stage of the rocket responsible for sending Orion on its journey around the Moon – are currently being fueled and serviced in the MPPF. Once fueling is complete, Orion will move to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration of its launch abort system, while the ICPS will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be stacked on the mobile launcher.
Artemis I will be the first integrated test of SLS and Orion and will pave the way for landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. The mission will be a stepping stone for deep space exploration, leading the agency’s efforts under the Artemis program for a sustainable presence on the Moon and preparing for human missions to Mars.
Click here for a video of the logo being added to the CMA.
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.
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.
“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.”