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 core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for NASA’s Artemis I mission has been placed on the mobile launcher in between the twin solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The boosters attach at the engine and intertank sections of the core stage. Serving as the backbone of the rocket, the core stage supports the weight of the payload, upper stage, and crew vehicle, as well as carrying the thrust of its four engines and two five-segment solid rocket boosters.
After the core stage arrived on April 27, engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs brought the core stage into the VAB for processing work and then lifted it into place with one of the five overhead cranes in the facility.
Once the core stage is stacked alongside the boosters, the launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), will be stacked atop the core stage and quickly followed by the ICPS.
Artemis I will be an uncrewed test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.
Teams with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, are fueling the Orion service module ahead of the Artemis I mission. The spacecraft currently resides in Kennedy’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility alongside the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS), the rocket’s upper stage that will send Orion to the Moon. After servicing, these elements will be integrated with the flight components of the Space Launch System, which are being assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Technicians began loading Orion’s service module with oxidizer, which will power the Orbital Maneuvering System main engine and auxiliary thrusters on the European-built service module ahead of propellant loading. These auxiliary thrusters stabilize and control the rotation of the spacecraft after it separates from the ICPS. Once the service module is loaded, teams will fuel the crew module to support thermal control of the internal avionics and the reaction control system. These 12 thrusters steady the crew module and control its rotation after separation from the service module.
Once Orion servicing is complete, teams will fill the ICPS. This liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system will push the spacecraft beyond the Moon for the test flight under the agency’s Artemis program. In several weeks, when fueling is complete, Orion will move to the center’s Launch Abort System Facility to integrate its launch abort system, and the ICPS will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be stacked atop the mobile launcher.
The twin boosters will power the first flight of the agency’s new deep space rocket on its first Artemis Program mission. Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights.
Before the most powerful rocket in existence can lift off for lunar missions, it must first make the 4.2-mile trek from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For the Artemis I mission, the path from the VAB to Launch Complex 39B must be able to support the behemoth Crawler Transporter-2 — as well as the massive weight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion capsule, and the mobile launcher. Teams at Kennedy are working to ensure the crawlerway is strong enough to withstand the weight and provide stability for the Artemis I mission and then some.
“Conditioning the crawlerway is important to prevent a phenomenon we call liquefaction, in which the crawler transporter, the mobile launcher, and the load on it causes the crawlerway to vibrate and shake the soil,” said Robert Schroeder, design manager of the crawlerway conditioning project and engineer at Kennedy. “Essentially, the soil itself will behave like a liquid instead of a solid, which could cause the crawler to tip to one side or the other.”
The crawlerway is currently required to support 25.5 million pounds for the Artemis I mission. However, as essential payloads will be added on future missions, the teams at Kennedy decided to test additional weight so they would be “ahead of the ballgame,” Schroeder said.
Work to prepare the crawlerway began Nov. 23. Over the next few months, technicians will lift several concrete blocks, each weighing over 40,000 pounds, onto the mobile launcher platform used for the space shuttle and Crawler Transporter-2. They will then drive the loaded transporter up and down the path between the VAB and launch pad, with each pass increasingly compacting the soil. By the time the project ends, the crawlerway will have supported more than 26 million pounds.
Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.
NTDs within the Exploration Ground Systems program are in charge of flight and ground hardware testing in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center firing rooms 1 and 2, where activities involved with preparing rockets, spacecraft and payloads for space can be controlled from computer terminals. They are responsible for emergency management actions, helping lead the launch team during all facets of testing, launch and recovery.
NASA’s Artemis missions will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, beginning with Artemis I, the uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion.
“It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be responsible for setting up the building blocks of a new program which will eventually take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno.
Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. This includes proving the functionality of flight and ground systems for the assembled launch vehicle configuration, verifying the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals operate as expected at launch, and performing a simulated launch countdown with the integrated vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The 14-year NTD veteran relishes his hands-on role in successfully testing and launching SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.
“It’s very fulfilling,” Zeno said. “What excites me about the future is that the work I’m doing today is contributing to someday having humans living and working on other planets.”
There are 18 people in the NTD office — all of whom must undergo rigorous certification training in the management and leadership of test operations, systems engineering and emergency response. They are in charge of the people, hardware and schedule during active firing room testing.
“The NTD office is at the center of testing operations, which will ensure that we are ready to fly the Artemis missions,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “As we lay the foundation for exploring our solar system, the NASA test directors are on the front lines of making it happen.”
An NTD works from a console in the firing room during integrated or hazardous testing, guiding the team through any contingency or emergency operations. They lead critical testing on Launch Pad 39B and the mobile launcher, the 370-foot-tall, 11 million-pound steel structure that will launch the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars. This includes sound suppression, fire suppression and cryogenic fluid flow tests, as well as testing the crew access arm and umbilicals — connections that will provide communications, coolant and fuel up until launch.
While the majority of work for the ground and flight systems is pre-liftoff, the job certainly doesn’t end there.
“It culminates in a two-day launch countdown in which all of the groups, teams and assets are required to function together in an almost flawless performance to get us to launch,” said Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding.
Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. For Artemis I, he is leading the launch control team and support teams during the launch countdown for Blackwell-Thompson, who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of SLS.
Just over three miles from the launch pad, on launch day, Spaulding will be in the firing room running the final portion of cryogenic loading through launch. During this time, supercool propellants — called cryogenics — are loaded into the vehicle’s tanks. He will perform the same tasks for the wet dress rehearsal, which is a full practice countdown about two months before launch that includes fueling the tanks and replicating everything done for launch prior to main engine start.
At the end of the mission, part of the team will lead the recovery efforts aboard a Navy vessel after Orion splashdown. The NASA recovery director and supporting NTDs are responsible for planning and carrying out all operations to recover the Orion capsule onto a U.S. Navy ship. This includes working closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that teams coordinate recovery plans, meet requirements, and follow timelines and procedures to bring our heroes and spacecraft home quickly and safely.
“We are supported by numerous teams at Kennedy and elsewhere around the country that are helping us with our historic first flight as we blaze a path toward landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024,” Spaulding said.