Work on Artemis I Orion nears completion, other Orions make progress

The Artemis I Orion spacecraft is currently undergoing final checkouts before the critical milestone of transportation to the Vehicle Assembly Building for final stacking, integration, and checkout ahead of launch.

Meanwhile, the Orion crew modules for the Artemis II, III, and IV missions are also continuing assembly in their processing flows.

Artemis I

The Artemis I Orion is currently located inside the high bay at the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF), located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft has been inside the facility since July 10 when it left the Multi-Payload Processing Facility.

Not long after arriving at the LASF, the Launch Abort System (LAS) was integrated atop the Orion spacecraft on July 23 via 12 structural connections. All work was carried out by teams from both NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs.

The LASF facility was built in 1993 as the Canister Rotation Facility for the Space Shuttle program. During the Shuttle era, the facility was used to rotate the canisters that housed payloads destined for the payload bay on the Space Shuttle before departure to the launch pad.

The facility has been used for all Orion test flights to date, including Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in 2014 and the Ascent Abort-2 test in 2019. The first flight of the Orion capsule was EFT-1, which launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. That mission carried the spacecraft to orbit where the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage was then used to raise the apogee of the orbit high enough to permit Orion to reenter at lunar velocities to test the heat shield.

For the Artemis I Orion, in late August 2021, the first of four panels, called ogives, was installed. The ogive panels encapsulate the Orion spacecraft and are located at the 0-degree, 90-degree, 180-degree, and 270-degree locations around the craft.

The final ogive panel was installed around Orion on September 8.

On September 21, hundreds of fasteners on the ogives and six spring bumpers were installed. This provided the LAS with the structural rigidity required to open the hatch on the LAS. This then allowed teams to carry out the hatch functional test, which meant opening both hatches on the LAS and the Orion spacecraft.

Once both hatches were open, a ground support equipment purge barrier for the area between Orion and the LAS was fit checked. This purge barrier will protect against Foreign Object Debris (FOD) when the Orion is inside the Vehicle Assembly Building and from the Crew Access Arm on Mobile Launcher 1.

The next major step for Orion will now be its move from the LASF and to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Once there, Orion will be stacked on top of the Orion Stage Adaptor (OSA) atop the Space Launch System rocket. Once stacked, it will become the first fully stacked launch vehicle in the VAB since STS-135 in 2011.

The OSA is currently inside High Bay 4 at the VAB.

Artemis I is set to launch no earlier than January 2022. The mission will be an uncrewed test flight to the moon and back.

Artemis II

The Artemis II Orion crew module is currently located at the Crew Module station inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) where closeouts on its Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) heater and temperature sensor wiring are underway.

The Artemis II Orion spacecraft will be the first to carry humans and will be the first crewed vehicle to travel beyond low Earth orbit following Apollo 17 in December 1972. The capsule will also be the first NASA-owned crewed vehicle to launch since Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135 in 2011.

The Crew Module Adapter (CMA), which connects the European Service Module to the Orion Crew Module is currently at the Avionics Power and Wiring (APW) station for final installation of the forward walls and the subsequent APW harness tests.

European Service Module 2 is also undergoing final testing at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany. Recently, the consumables storage system gas tank was retested following a gas tank swap.

The Artemis II Orion inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on July 15. Credit: NASA.

In addition, Multi-layer insulation work on the tank bulkhead has been completed and work is underway to install Spider Net MLI insulation.

Shipment of the European Service Module to KSC is scheduled before the end of the year.

Artemis III

Conversely, the Artemis III Orion is currently at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) near New Orleans, Louisiana. Welding of the pressure vessel for the spacecraft was recently completed, and the capsule is now undergoing a second round of planishing (a technique to finely shape and smooth metal) operations.

Nondestructive tests of these welds will follow to ensure their integrity for flight.

The facility reopened on September 7 after a brief closure due to Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 storm that made landfall just west of Michoud on August 29 — the 16th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in the same location. Work on the Orion crew module pressure vessel resumed the same day Michoud reopened.

Meanwhile, the walls of the Orion Crew Module Adapter are currently being constructed at Michoud.

The Orion pressure vessel for Artemis III at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Credit: NASA.

Michoud has a long history is NASA, serving as the assembly facility for the S-IC first stages of the Saturn V and the External Tanks for the Space Shuttle program. In addition to Orion operations, the facility is the location for the assembly of the Core Stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.

Artemis IV and beyond

Components of the pressure vessel for the Artemis IV Orion are now into production as well. Work began at Ingersoll Machine Tools located in Rockford, Illinois, where tunnel and forward bulkhead machining was completed. The sections were then sent to Imagineering for prime and paintwork.

Beyond Artemis IV, on September 21, NASA awarded a new contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne for 20 new Orion Main Engines for Artemis VII through Artemis XIV, with the contract lasting through April 23, 2032.

This is a single award, indefinite delivery/quantity contract that includes firm-fixed-price orders. The contract has a maximum value of $600 million.

The first six Orion missions will use refurbished Orbiter Maneuvering System (OMS) engines from the Space Shuttle program. The OMS-Es — as they are known for Orion — are also called the AJ10-190.

The engines burn monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

(Featured Image: The Artemis I Orion is seen after installation of the Launch Abort System inside the Launch Abort System Facility. Credit: NASA). 

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