NASA Safety Panel: Significant Challenges Remain for SLS & Orion Programs

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon continues to make steady progress but faces significant challenges in manufacturing, flight control, software and other key areas as a crucial test of an abort system looms this spring, according to a new report released on Friday.

A section of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s (ASAP) Annual Report examined progress with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion crew vehicle and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs. An uncrewed flight of SLS and Orion known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is scheduled for next year.

(more…)

NASA Completes Orion Parachute Tests for Missions with Astronauts

An Orion test capsule with its three main parachutes touches down in the Arizona desert Sept. 12. (Credit: NASA)

YUMA, Ariz. (NASA PR) — NASA has completed the final test to qualify Orion’s parachute system for flights with astronauts, checking off an important milestone on the path to send humans on missions to the Moon and beyond.

(more…)

Orion Pressure Vessel for Exploration Mission-2 Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

The Orion pressure vessel for Exploration Mission-2 arrives at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 24, 2018. (Credit: NASA/Christopher Swanson)

By Linda Herridge
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

It’s almost a packed house in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the arrival of the Orion pressure vessel for Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) that will carry astronauts beyond the Moon atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The pressure vessel arrived on a super-wide transport truck at the center Aug. 24 and joined the Orion Exploration Mission-1 crew module in the high bay where technicians recently secured the heat shield to the bottom of the spacecraft.

The pressure vessel is Orion’s primary structure that holds the pressurized atmosphere astronauts will breathe and work in while in the vacuum of deep space. The main structure of the pressure vessel consists of seven large aluminum pieces that are welded together to produce a strong, yet light-weight, air-tight capsule. The pieces were joined at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans using a state-of-the-art process called friction-stir welding, which produces incredibly strong bonds by transforming metals from a solid into a plastic-like state, and then using a rotating pin tool to soften, stir and forge a bond between two metal components to form a uniform welded joint, a vital requirement of next-generation space hardware.

The pressure vessel was loaded into the Crew Module Transportation Fixture and then lowered onto a heavy equipment semi-trailer for the nearly 700-mile journey over land to Kennedy. Efforts will now begin to prepare the pressure vessel for flight. Initially, the crew module will be secured into a precision alignment tool and Lockheed Martin technicians will begin the work to attach the main structural components to the exterior of the module. These critical parts, some made of aluminum and titanium, will provide structural strength to the pressure vessel and give the spacecraft its conical shape.

“Flying Orion on our new SLS rocket represents the beginning of a new era in space exploration,” said Kent Beringer, EM-2 lead with Orion Production Operations at Kennedy. “This Orion spacecraft and the SLS will take humans farther into the solar system than ever before. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

NASA’s First Flight With Crew Important Step on Long-term Return to the Moon

Orion spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Astronauts on their first flight aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft will travel farther into the solar system than humanity has ever traveled before. Their mission will be to confirm all of the spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space with crew aboard. NASA’s first mission with crew will mark a significant step forward on NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and future missions to worlds beyond, including Mars.

(more…)

GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

(more…)

GAO: Orion Program Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns

NASA’s Orion with the European Service Module (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Cost overruns and schedule delays continue to plague NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

NASA expects the Orion program to exceed its $11.28 billion baseline budget, which covers expenditures through the Exploration Mission-2 mission, the report stated. The space agency expects to complete a new cost estimate by June.

(more…)

NASA’s Top Management Challenges: Deep Space Exploration

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges with its deep space exploration effort. The space agency is dealing with slipping schedules, constrained budgets, and thin funding reserves as it seeks to complete development of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems. NASA also has only high-level plans for other systems that will be required to send astronauts on useful deep-space missions.

Key excerpts from the report follow.

(more…)

NASA Will Not Fly Crew on First SLS/Orion Mission

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials announced on Friday the first combined flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be conducted without a crew as originally planned. They also said the flight test will slip from 2018 to 2019.

(more…)