Lockheed Martin engineers in Denver are awaiting the arrival of the first complete Orion crew exploration vehicle structure for the start of ground tests.
The ground test article left NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by truck on Feb. 10. In Denver, technicians will integrate it with its heat shield and thermal protection backshell.
The capsule, developed under the terminated Constellation Program and built to spaceflight specifications at Michoud, will undergo leak and other ground tests in Denver. Later, it will be shipped to the new Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center to validate its water-landing capabilities.
The Langley basin was built to certify all human-rated spacecraft that land in the water, including those under public/private development as part of NASA’s shift to commercial crew vehicles for astronaut trips to the International Space Station.
While the agency has terminated the Constellation Program as a result, Congress has specified the Orion vehicle as the starting point for the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) it wants as a government backup in case the commercial vehicles cannot be developed under the current scheme.
Meanwhile, Orion is still officially on the books as the “program of record” for U.S. human spaceflight, under old congressional appropriations language requiring work under Constellation to continue. If the commercial vehicles take its place for missions to low Earth orbit (LEO), the MPCV would continue to be developed as a crew carrier for missions beyond LEO.
“Orion’s upcoming performance tests will demonstrate how the spacecraft meets the challenges of deep-space mission environments such as ascent, launch abort, on-orbit operations, high-speed return trajectory, parachute deployment, and water landings in a variety of sea states,” said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin’s Orion program manager.
Data from the upcoming tests will be incorporated into future versions of the Orion vehicle, including its design, inspection and testing. The ground test article already has helped validate production processes at Michoud.