October 19, 2015 – Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans continue to weld together the primary structure of the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission-1.
Technicians recently joined the spacecraft’s barrel section, which is the round middle part of the spacecraft, to the aft bulkhead, which is the bottom portion of the crew module.
Through collaborations across design and manufacturing, teams have been able to reduce the number of welds for the crew module by more than half since the first test version of Orion’s primary structure was constructed and flown on the Exploration Flight Test-1 last December. The Exploration Mission-1 structure will include just seven main welds, plus several smaller welds for start and stop holes left by welding tools. Fewer welds will result in a lighter spacecraft.
The seven large pieces will be put together in detailed order. Prior to beginning work on the pieces destined for space, technicians practiced their process, refined their techniques and ensured proper tooling configurations by welding together a pathfinder, a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. Orion’s three cone panels will be next to be welded together.
Once completed, the structure will be shipped from Michoud to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Orion’s systems and subsystems will be integrated and processed before launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.
EM-1 will be the first test of the fully integrated Orion and SLS system. The mission, expected to launch in 2018, will send Orion into lunar distant retrograde orbit — a wide orbit around the moon that is farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. The mission will last more than 20 days and will certify the design and safety of Orion and SLS for human-rated exploration missions.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, based in Littleton, Colorado, leads the Orion industry team as the prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft.