On Tuesday, Orion will fly 55 seconds before violently escaping from its rocket
“We need to fly. We need to show progress."
Nearly five years have passed since NASA first launched its Orion spacecraft to an apogee of 5,800km above the Earth, completing a successful test flight of the capsule intended to carry astronauts to lunar orbit in the 2020s.
Now, NASA is preparing for its second Orion launch, although this flight will be considerably shorter. On Tuesday morning, NASA intends to launch a boilerplate version of Orion—essentially a well instrumented vehicle without any life-support equipment or many other critical systems—on top of a solid rocket booster built by Northrop Grumman.
The rocket is actually an old Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile, now refurbished for commercial purposes. It will launch the Orion to an altitude of nearly 9.5km above the Florida coast in order to test Orion’s launch abort system at the point of maximum dynamic pressure. This will occur about 55 seconds after launch.
“This will simulate a really bad day for Orion, where there’s a problem with the launch vehicle at the worst possible moment,” said Orion Program Deputy Manager Charlie Lundquist in an interview with Ars.
A violent shock
The capsule's escape from an exploding launch vehicle involves three steps. When Orion reaches its test altitude, the spacecraft’s launch abort system—which resides in a tower above the capsule—will first fire its powerful abort motor to rapidly pull the spacecraft away from the rocket. This will be a violent shock for the vehicle, and NASA engineers are keen to understand the forces the abort motor firing will generate inside Orion—and also to understand how robust engineers will need to build critical components used during crew flights.
A few seconds later, an attitude control motor at the top of the launch abort system will fire to stabilize Orion and orient it properly so that the spacecraft can be released. Finally, a jettison motor will fire to release Orion so that its drogue parachutes can open, followed by its main parachutes, before the spacecraft splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean.
The whole test will last only about 3 minutes. “I wouldn’t blink,” Lundquist said. “When the launch window opens, I wouldn’t take a bathroom break."
The test’s four-hour launch window opens at 7:00am ET (11:00 UTC) on Tuesday, July 2. From a hardware perspective, Lundquist said NASA has checked out all of the systems after integrating Orion with its rocket and that everything looks good. The primary concern is weather, with the potential for rainfall. However, NASA just needs a few minutes of good visibility to obtain good video data during the test.
"We need to fly"
Back in 2010, NASA conducted another test of the launch abort system—a pad abort test that simulated a failure of the rocket on the ground. During this test, Orion could not escape high enough into the atmosphere to have time to deploy its drogue parachutes, so it went right into main parachute deployment.
Since that time the launch abort system has evolved due to the changing nature of Orion's rocket. In 2010, NASA had planned to launch Orion on an Ares I rocket, which was powered by a solid rocket motor that would ascend more rapidly than the larger Space Launch System, which itself has a combination of liquid fueled rocket engines and solid motor propulsion.
NASA has now been developing Orion in various configurations for nearly 15 years and has spent about $16 billion on the program. At various times the capsule has been tagged as a Mars transit vehicle, a Moon vehicle, a lifeboat from the International Space Station, and more. Now, NASA hopes to use the large and capable spacecraft as a means of getting crews safely to a small station near the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway, which the space agency hopes to build in the early 2020s.
Lundquist acknowledged that it will be good to get Orion flying again, even if its next spaceflight probably won’t occur for another couple of years—likely in 2021 during a test flight of the Space Launch System rocket. “We need to fly,” he said. “We need to show progress. This is a big morale boost to the team to demonstrate the human rated capability of the Orion spacecraft.”
Chasing Orion: Test launch this week holds key to future human space missions
NASA workers prepare the Orion Spacecraft Monday, July 16, 2018, in Houston. Johnson Space Center is powering up the Orion test module to make sure it is functioning well.
Chasing Orion: This is the eighth in a series of stories leading up to Tuesday’s launch of Orion’s launch abort system.
In the span of just three minutes, NASA personnel will know if their plan to put humans on the moon in the coming years can remain on track.
That’s not a lot of time. Listening to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” or David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” would take longer.
But the test of the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system Tuesday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., is the most important of the Orion program: It will determine if the capsule’s four-person crew can escape if the rocket explodes in the seconds after liftoff.
And astronauts cannot strap into an Orion capsule destined for the moon until the escape system is in working order.
“What we want to do is have confidence in all the systems. We’re putting the emergency system to the test,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager. “This is one of the tests we do in order to certify that Orion is ready for people.”
The world was provided a stark reminder of why a launch abort system is important last year, when a Russian Soyuz spacecraft transporting an American astronaut to the International Space Station suffered a rocket booster failure and was forced to make an emergency landing. Both astronauts on board emerged without injury.
To test the system, NASA built a mock-up of the crew capsule — one that will never be used again — that lacks seats, parachutes and oxygen systems, but is chock-full of the sensors, flight computers and communication systems needed for a successful test. Personnel at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston have been working on the mock-up since April 2018.
The Orion spacecraft has been in various stages of design for nearly two decades, its destination oscillating between the moon and Mars, depending on White House leadership. Now that President Donald Trump’s administration has directed NASA to put humans on the moon four years early, in 2024 instead of 2028, it’s even more important that the test goes smoothly the first time to avoid delays.
“This is a bold and exciting mission to get people to the moon,” Kirasich said. “We don’t feel pressure; it motivated the team.”
But conducting a flawless test of Orion’s emergency abort system is the least of NASA’s worries when it comes to the 2024 timeline.
Funding for the endeavor is far from secured, and the schedule delays that have plagued NASA’s heavy-lift rocket make this goal even more questionable.
‘The safest spacecraft designed’
The magic happens Tuesday morning at 31,000 feet.
Once the mock-up capsule reaches that altitude — assuming everything goes as planned — it will separate from the rocket in a half-second, pulling the capsule — and its imaginary crew — out of harm’s way quickly.
To make the instantaneous getaway, the capsule is outfitted with four large bolts that connect it to the launch abort system. The bolts will automatically explode if the systems detect a problem with the rocket, separating the crew module from the boosters so those on board can escape a fiery death.
Because of this system, Orion is the “safest spacecraft designed by NASA,” the space agency has continued to tout.
It’s not a new concept, though. A launch abort system was used on Mercury. And though Gemini used ejection seats, NASA brought the abort system back for Apollo.
But NASA took a 30-year hiatus from the system during the space shuttle era.
“The shuttle’s abort scenarios were altogether different beasts,” Jason Davis, digital editor for the Planetary Society, wrote in 2014. “They involved wild acrobatics.”
And they did nothing to prevent the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board.
“For the shuttle, there wasn’t much you could do if the entire rocket stack suddenly fell apart around the orbiter,” Davis said.
NASA hasn’t launched astronauts in its own rockets from American soil since 2011, when the space shuttle program was shuttered. But when they do — when Orion finally takes flight — it will have an emergency abort option.
“Critics have questioned why NASA didn’t try out next-generation abort systems like built-in thrusters or powered landings,” Davis said. “They argue Orion is simply an Apollo redux. … But other considerations aside, capsules and launch abort towers are a safe bet for a government agency trying to please a long list of bureaucrats, politicians and industry leaders.”
A stark reminder
More than three decades after the Challenger explosion, the world again was reminded why launch abort systems are important.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague was strapping into a Soyuz in early October, ready for a flight to the International Space Station alongside Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. There are risks associated with all spaceflight, but this one was as routine as it gets.
Astronauts are ferried to and from the space station aboard the Russian space taxis every six months or so, and there hadn’t been a mission abort for a Soyuz in 35 years.
But Oct. 11 was different. About two minutes into the launch, just as the Soyuz reached the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, a light in the capsule started blinking. There’d been a rocket failure.
The Soyuz automatically initiated an abort sequence, forcing an emergency landing that robbed the two men of their chance to live in space, and grounded U.S. astronauts until a cause was determined. NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to space for eight years.
In the days after the accident, Hague noted how fortunate he was to be alive — and how fortunate he was that the abort system worked.
“There are thousands of people working tirelessly to put these systems in place, these systems that saved us,” Hague told the Houston Chronicle in October. “I’m just thankful that they do their job and take it so seriously and that the system was ready to go. That thought helped temper my disappointment at not being on the station right now.”
Russia ultimately determined the cause of the failure — a malfunctioning sensor that caused the first and second stages of the rocket launching their Soyuz spacecraft to crash into each other — and reshuffled flights. Russia has sent numerous missions to and from the space station since without incident, including Hague and Ovchinin, who are set to return this fall.
Watching and waiting
Deadlines were already tight for Orion, which initially was scheduled to be launched by the agency’s behemoth Space Launch System rocket in 2017.
But SLS has continually been plagued by burgeoning costs and schedule delays, in turn pushing back the date of Orion’s first human launch.
Then, the Trump administration in March called on NASA to accelerate the schedule for putting Americans on the moon by four years.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has admitted that the schedule is “aggressive.” In early June, he announced that the moon 2024 program, now known as Artemis, would need $20 billion to $30 billion — or $4 billion to $5 billion each year — to reach the goal. For the coming budget year, NASA has asked Congress for just $1.6 billion — and lawmakers largely have ignored that request.
Also concerning is a federal watchdog report that showed the agency has repeatedly masked the true cost and delays of SLS. According to the Government Accountability Office, the cost of SLS has gone up almost 30 percent, or nearly $2 billion, and the first launch of the Orion-SLS duo — which will not have humans on board — might not happen until June 2021.
Despite all these problems, NASA has continued to say it can reach the moon by 2024. But they won’t be able to put humans on Orion unless Tuesday’s test is a success.
Kirasich currently doesn’t have a backup plan in place should Tuesday’s test fail; how they respond to a failure depends on what doesn’t work.
“We would just have to look around and see what makes sense,” he said. “It will all depend on the circumstances.”
Quelle: Houston Chronicle
Critical abort test of NASA’s Orion crew capsule set for Tuesday
A three-minute test flight Tuesday morning over Cape Canaveral will help ensure NASA’s Orion crew capsule — the vehicle being built to carry astronauts back to the moon — can safely escape from a catastrophic failure on launch.
The $256 million atmospheric test flight, named Orion Ascent Abort-2, is designed to demonstrate the spacecraft can get away from a rocket in flight, a key safety feature that would save the astronauts inside the capsule in the event of a launch failure.
On future missions with astronauts, the Orion spacecraft will lift off aboard NASA’s Space Launch System, a huge 322-foot-tall (98-meter) rocket that will propel crews toward the moon. Tuesday’s test flight will use a much smaller rocket that will barely exceed the typical cruising altitude of a commercial airliner.
“It’s a three-minute flight test, but it’s really the only full-scale system test that we have before we put crew on the vehicle, so it’s definitely critical for making sure that we can get the crew safely away in an emergency,” said Jenny Devolites, the Orion AA-2 test director from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
A boilerplate Orion capsule is set for launch during a four-hour window opening at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) Tuesday from Space Launch Complex 46, a seaside facility located near the easternmost point of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The capsule will launch aboard a single-stage solid-fueled booster taken from the U.S. Air Force’s stockpiles of decommissioned Peacekeeper missiles, which were developed to deliver nuclear warheads to distant targets.
The ascent abort test comes after a series of ground test-firings of the Orion abort system, and a flight test conducted in May 2010 to simulate an escape from an explosion on the launch pad.
The pad abort in 2010 flew with a prototype abort system. The ascent abort Tuesday will test a fully functioning abort apparatus, the same configuration to be relied upon by astronauts.
“This test is extremely important,” said Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion program manager. “In Orion, crew safety and spacecraft reliability are very high priorities for us, and our launch abort system is a key safety feature of the spacecraft. It will protect the crew members who fly on-board Orion. It will protect them during the most challenging part of the mission, which is the ascent phase.”
No astronauts will be on-board for Tuesday’s flight, but veteran space flier Randy Bresnik said Monday he is eager to see the results of the abort test.
“It’s certainly a very exciting test for us tomorrow,” Bresnik said. “It is so important because it’s the only one of its type in the dynamic flight environment, the environment where it’s going to be needed most.”
On a real space mission, the Orion spacecraft would command an abort automatically if sensors detected a malfunction in the launch vehicle. Astronauts riding on the spacecraft will also be able to manually initiate an abort, Bresnik said.
The emergency landing of Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA flight engineer Nick Hague after a failed Soyuz rocket launch in October 2018 illustrated the importance of a launch abort capability, Bresnik said.
“We have to prepare for this, even though it’s a low likelihood of happening,” Bresnik said. “It had been 35 years since anyone on the planet had to exercise their launch abort system (before the Soyuz abort last year).
“That was definitely a good message to all of us that this is serious stuff,” Bresnik said. “We need to be ready because it has ultimate consequences if it doesn’t (work).”
Ground crews at Cape Canaveral have stacked components for the AA-2 test flight at pad 46 since April, beginning with the raising of the surplus Peacekeeper missile booster provided by the Air Force. The Peacekeeper’s SR118 first stage will ignite with a half-million pounds of thrust and turn due east from pad 46 to climb into the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean.
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly known as Orbital ATK, assembled the Orion test booster, adding avionics, sensors and an aerodynamic shell to the Peacekeeper stage. The same first stage is used by the Minotaur 4 satellite launcher, which is also assembled and launched by Northrop Grumman under contract to the Air Force.
Engineers installed ballast plates, a separation ring and a test model of the Orion capsule on top of the single-stage booster at pad 46, which was itself modified for the Orion abort test with the installation of two new lightning protection towers.
Before transferring the Orion vehicle to the launch pad, teams inside a processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center connect the capsule to its launch abort tower, a needle-shaped structure that extends above the spacecraft and contains three separate rocket motors, all fueled by pre-packed solid propellants.
Lockheed Martin, the Orion spacecraft’s prime contractor, oversees the development of the launch abort system.
The Orion capsule flying on the AA-2 test flight was fabricated at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, and outfitted with wiring, sensors and other equipment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston before shipment to the Kennedy Space Center in December.
Forecasters at the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather during Tuesday’s four-launch launch window. The main concern is with clouds that could obscure the view of the test by optical tracking cameras, a requirement for engineers to examine the performance of the abort system in flight.
The complete test vehicle weighs around 310,000 pounds, or approximately 140 metric tons.
After ignition of the SR118 booster rocket, the 93-foot-tall (28-meter) test vehicle will head east and climb to 31,000 feet (about 9,500 meters) before exhausting its propellant.
“The booster is going to give us about 500,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff in order to get us up to the right test condition at 31,000 feet,” Devolites said. “We actually had to add over 100,000 pounds of ballast to it just to slow it down, because it’s pretty sporty.”
The booster’s guidance system will aim to reach a predetermined set of conditions, such as speed, aerodynamic pressure and angle of attack, before the Orion capsule’s flight computer triggers the abort command 55 seconds after liftoff, at velocity of about Mach 1.3, or 1.3 times the speed of sound.
“When we get up to about 31,000 feet, we’ve got tremendous aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle, and we get a signal from the booster that we’ve reached the (test) condition, and it tells our flight computer and our flight software to initiate the abort,” Devolites said.
The Orion spacecraft’s Northrop Grumman-built abort motor, fitted with four fixed nozzles, will instantly ignite to pull the spacecraft away from the rocket.
“At that time we actually ignite the abort motor, which is about 400,000 pounds of thrust,” Devolites said. “It pulls about seven Gs, and it also ignites the attitude control motor that provides the steering. It rotates the vehicle around, re-orients it, and puts the heat shield forward for descent.”
The attitude control motor, also supplied by Northrop Grumman, is located at the top of the abort tower and features eight variable-thrust nozzles placed at 45-degree angles around the structure, each with the ability to independently controlled. The Orion’s computer will sense the vehicle’s orientation during the abort and send commands to the attitude control motor to move the position of pintles inside each nozzle to adjust thrust and keep the vehicle properly pointed.
The abort motor will fire for about 5 seconds, providing an additional impulse for the vehicle to reach a top speed of about Mach 1.5, according to Blake Watters, principal engineer on the abort system at Lockheed Martin.
The attitude control motor will re-orient the vehicle at about 43,000 feet (13,100 meters), then the abort system will separate from the capsule to fall into the ocean.
The abort system’s jettison motor is the only part of the assembly that will be used on every mission. On a normal launch, the jettison motor will ignite to push the abort tower off the rocket once it is out of the atmosphere.
Built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, the jettison motor produces around 40,000 pounds of thrust and will be the last part of the abort system to be used on the AA-2 test flight as the vehicle reaches a peak altitude of around 44,000 feet (13,400 meters).
“In an actual abort scenario, parachutes would deploy that slow the spacecraft down for a water landing, and then the crew returns safely to land,” Devolites said. “But for our flight test, we’re skipping the parachutes since those are being tested separately.”
NASA said disposing of the Orion test capsule, which is not designed to fly in space, makes the test flight less expensive and saved development time.
Twelve data recorders will release from the Orion capsule to fall into the Atlantic Ocean, where boats will be on standby to retrieve them for analysis. Nearly 900 temperature, acoustic and pressure sensors are flying on the test vehicle to record information in flight.
“We have two separate pods, they’re actually military flare dispensers, and they had six recorders in each one, and we eject them in pairs every 10 seconds,” said Don Reed, launch director for the AA-2 mission, in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “So 20 seconds after the LAS (launch abort system) jettisons from the crew module, we start ejecting, so the first pair comes out 20 seconds after the LAS is jettisoned, and then every 10 seconds until all 12 are ejected.”
The capsule is expected to tumble after the abort system jettisons, and it will impact the sea at 300 mph (480 kilometers per hour) around 7 miles (11 kilometers) offshore, and is designed to sink to the ocean floor, according to Reed.
The data recorders provide a backup to telemetry data transmitted back to the ground by the vehicle in flight. In the event ground teams to not receive telemetry data in flight, NASA only needs to recover one of the data recorders. Reed said retrieved all of the devices during a rehearsal last year.
Each recorder has a GPS locator beacon.
A NASA WB-57 jet will also be flying over Cape Canaveral to record optical tracking imagery during the Orion abort test, officials said.
The Orion abort system is similar in appearance to the escape system flown on the Saturn 5 rocket during the Apollo program some 50 years ago. One major difference is the Orion abort system has a maneuverable attitude control motor to fully govern the vehicle’s trajectory after an abort, while the Apollo spacecraft had a non-vectoring “pitch” motor to send the capsule in one direction during a launch escape event.
The upgrade gives the Orion spacecraft the ability to escape from its launcher under more extreme conditions than possible with Apollo.
Space shuttle crews had no ability to use an abort rocket to escape a catastrophic failure during launch.
The new commercial crew capsules developed by Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station both have “pusher” escape systems, employing liquid-fueled rocket engines along the rear circumference of the vehicles to propel astronauts away from a launcher in an emergency.
The Apollo, Soyuz and Orion designs utilize “puller” abort systems.
NASA selected Lockheed Martin to begin developing the Orion spacecraft in 2006 under the auspices of the space agency’s now-defunct Constellation program, which started under the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its seven-person crew in 2003.
After the Columbia accident, the Bush White House directed NASA to end the shuttle program after completing the International Space Station, allowing the agency to re-focus on deep space exploration, with an objective of returning humans to the moon’s surface by 2020.
But the Constellation program ran into numerous delays and cost estimates crew, prompting President Obama to cancel the program in 2010. A year later, the White House and Congress agreed on a new strategy for NASA, salvaging work already completed on the Orion program and kicking off development of a new rocket called the Space Launch System for eventual missions to Mars.
The Orion and Space Launch System programs have encountered more difficulties since 2011, delaying the first launch of an unpiloted version of the crew capsule on the SLS from 2017 until no earlier than late 2020, or more likely some time in 2021.
NASA and Lockheed Martin conducted an Orion test flight in Earth orbit in December 2014 to test the capsule’s heat shield at the speeds it will encounter on re-entry from the moon. Engineers also conducted the Orion pad abort test in 2010 and a series of parachute drop tests.
NASA has spent around $16 billion on the Orion program since its start, according to Laura Forczyk, a space policy analyst. The SLS program has cost around $14 billion to date, she said earlier this year.
The Orion and SLS programs form the core of NASA’s newly-announced Artemis program, which will attempt to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, responding to a directive from the Trump administration.
The first SLS/Orion mission, now designated Artemis 1, will send the Orion spacecraft on a flight lasting at least 25 days in a distant orbit around the moon, then back to Earth. Lockheed Martin engineers at the Kennedy Space Center are readying the Orion capsule for Artemis 1, along with its European-built power and propulsion module.
The Artemis 2 mission, currently set for launch in 2022 or 2023, will be the first Orion flight around the moon with astronauts.
In the meantime, NASA and commercial partners will build and launch elements of the Gateway, a mini-space station in lunar orbit that will be a stopover and safe haven for astronauts on the way to the moon’s surface.
NASA’s planned flight sequence would make the Artemis 3 mission the first opportunity to conduct a lunar landing with astronauts in 2024. But the schedule assumes no more delays and full funding of the moon landing initiative by Congress, which NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN last month will cost some $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years, on top of the agency’s previously-planned budget.
Successful Orion Test Brings NASA Closer to Moon, Mars Missions
NASA successfully demonstrated Tuesday the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system can outrun a speeding rocket and pull astronauts to safety during an emergency during launch. The test is another milestone in the agency’s preparation for Artemis missions to the Moon that will lead to astronaut missions to Mars.
During the approximately three-minute test, called Ascent Abort-2, a test version of the Orion crew module launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a modified Peacekeeper missile procured through the U.S. Air Force and built by Northrop Grumman.
The Orion test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of about six miles, at which point it experienced high-stress aerodynamic conditions expected during ascent. The abort sequence triggered and, within milliseconds, the abort motor fired to pull the crew module away from the rocket. Its attitude control motor flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
A team is collecting the 12 data recorders that were ejected during the test capsule’s descent. Analysis of the information will provide insight into the abort system’s performance.
“We're building the most powerful rocket in the world to send astronauts to the Moon in the Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With this exploration system designed to safely carry humans farther into space than ever before, we'll also have an equally powerful launch abort system that will pull the crew away if there is a problem with the rocket during the early portion of ascent.”
The tower-like abort structure consists of two parts: the fairing assembly, which is a shell composed of a lightweight composite material that protects the capsule from the heat, air flow and acoustics of the launch, ascent, and abort environments; and the launch abort tower, which includes the abort motor, attitude control motor, and jettison motor. The system is built specifically for deep space missions and to ride on NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
“Launching into space is one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of going to the Moon,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This test mimicked some of the most challenging conditions Orion will ever face should an emergency develop during the ascent phase of flight. Today, the team demonstrated our abort capabilities under these demanding conditions and put us one huge step closer to the first Artemis flight carrying people to the Moon.”
NASA was able to accelerate the test schedule and lower costs by simplifying the test spacecraft and eliminating parachutes and related systems. NASA already qualified the parachute system for crewed flights through an extensive series of 17 developmental tests and eight qualification tests completed at the end of 2018.
Engineers are making progress building and testing the Orion spacecraft for Artemis 1, the first uncrewed mission with the SLS rocket – an integrated system traveling thousands of miles beyond the Moon – and for Artemis 2, the first mission with astronauts.
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians are preparing to attach the Orion crew and service modules before testing at the agency’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, later this year. The crew module for Artemis 2 is being outfitted with thousands of elements – from bolts and strain gauges to parachutes and propulsion lines.
The agency recently reached major milestones for the SLS rocket, assembling four of the five parts that make up the massive core stage that will launch Artemis 1 and delivering the four engines that will be integrated into the core stage, along with the engine section, later this summer. When completed, the entire core stage will be the largest rocket stage NASA has built since manufacturing the Saturn V stages for NASA’s Apollo lunar missions in the 1960s.
Orion is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the SLS and Gateway, that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. Through the Artemis program, the next American Moon walkers will depart Earth aboard Orion and begin a new era of exploration.
NASA's Orion program makes appearance at Freedom Over Texas Festival
NASA workers prepare the Orion Spacecraft Monday, July 16, 2018, in Houston. Johnson Space Center is powering up the Orion test module to make sure it is functioning well.
A model of NASA's Orion spacecraft is picked up by a crane after being dropped from a C-17 to test the Capsule Parachute Assembly System at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, in Yuma. For the test, which is the 13th of 17 planned tests, the test vehicle was dropped from 13,000 feet to simulate conditions that the
Houstonians will get a glimpse of a life-size Orion test module on July 4th at the Freedom Over Texas Festival.
It's all part of an exhibit by NASA's Johnson Space Center -- the beginning of their celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. The official anniversary date is July 20th.
At Freedom Over Texas, Johnson Director Mark Geyer will make an appearance, alongside astronaut Frank Rubio. Rubio, 43, is part of the 2017 astronaut class. He has yet to fly in space.
The Orion program is building the spacecrafts that will take humans back to the moon. In the spring, President Donald Trump's administration directed the space agency to do this four years early, in 2024 instead of 2028.
Funding for this endeavor has not yet been secured and cost and schedule delays for the rocket that will get them there, the behemoth Space Launch System, make this goal even more difficult.