The Orion spacecraft, euphemistically known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), is coming along. It has gone from digital designs, boiler plates, and test welds to something, as can be seen, resembling a spacecraft.
On February 10th, Orion was shipped from its factory at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to LockMart’s Denver, Colorado facilities where it will be subjected to a series of rigorous tests to confirm Orion’s ability to safely fly astronauts through all the harsh environments of deep space exploration missions.
Unlike some other spacecraft manufacturers, Orion was designed from the beginning to meet all of NASA’s own human rating standards. These same human rating standards are serving as the foundation for the commercial crew human rating standards. As such, in addition to meeting NASA’s current human rating standards, Orion already meets the commercial standards as well without any redesigns. Orion is the only crewed spacecraft to have passed critical human-rating milestones, including Orion’s flawless flight test of its launch abort system and the successful phase one safety review that validated Orion meets many of NASA’s stringent requirements for safe human spaceflight.
Soon after the spacecraft arrives in Denver, it will be mated with its heat shield and thermal protection backshell before undergoing environmental testing. This crew module will also go through a series of simulated landing scenarios at Langley’s new Hydro Impact Basin, essentially a giant swimming pool into which the Orion spacecraft will be dropped. It is of historical interest that the Apollo spacecraft failed its first drop, forcing NASA to modify the design. The Langley facility will be used to test, validate and certify water landings for all human-rated spacecraft for NASA.
“This is a significant milestone for the Orion project and puts us on the right path toward achieving the President’s objective of Orion’s first crewed mission by 2016,” said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. “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.”
Built to spaceflight specifications, this Orion ground test vehicle has already validated advanced production processes, equipment and tools required to manufacture the Orion crew module space flight hardware. Data collected from the testing and pathfinding operations will be incorporated to enhance design, requirements, tooling, processes, inspection and test that will ultimately result in a safe, reliable and affordable human-rated space exploration vehicle.
LockMart has a short movie that shows how the Orion looked around August 2010.