CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The Orion program showed its resilience this year during an unprecedented time, racking up several success stories building and testing the spacecraft in preparation for upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon. From hot fire and structural testing, to crew and service module assembly activities, progress on Orion brought the agency closer to sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, and sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.
Ensuring crew safety, a hot fire test was conducted on the Northrop Grumman-built attitude control motor – which provides steering for Orion’s launch abort system in the event of an emergency during ascent – at the company’s facility in Elkton, Maryland. The 30-second hot fire was the third and final test to qualify the motor for human missions, beginning with Artemis II.
During a three-month testing campaign at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, the Orion spacecraft was subjected to the extreme temperatures and electromagnetic environment it will experience on Artemis I – Orion’s first uncrewed test flight to the Moon atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Testing wrapped up early and the vehicle was readied for its journey back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard the agency’s one-of-a-kind Super Guppy.
Before NASA astronauts fly Orion on missions to the Moon and back, testing is necessary to verify the spacecraft’s ability to withstand the stresses of launch, climb to orbit, the harsh conditions of deep space transit, and return to Earth. Engineers from NASA and its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, completed testing on Orion’s Structural Test Article (STA) for Artemis I. The STA is structurally identical to Orion’s main spacecraft elements: the crew module, service module and launch abort system.
The first element machined for the Artemis III Orion crew module – a cone panel with openings for windows, which will provide a spectacular view – was designed by Lockheed Martin, and manufactured by AMRO Fabricating Corp., of South El Monte, California. The completed panel made its way to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, where engineers will weld it with other elements as part of Orion’s pressure vessel.
Orion’s European Service Module primary structure for the Artemis for the Artemis III mission arrived at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany, from its Thales Alenia Space manufacturing site in Turin, Italy. The service module will be equipped with components to power Orion and provide life support to astronauts – such as air, water, heat and cooling – during the mission that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon.
Three spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels were fitted onto Orion’s service module inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy. Once secured, the panels encapsulate the service module to protect it from harsh environments such as heat, wind, and acoustics as the spacecraft is propelled out of Earth’s atmosphere atop the SLS rocket during NASA’s Artemis I mission.