February 1, 2016 – NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft is transporting the Orion spacecraft pressure vessel for Exploration Mission-1 from the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The pressure vessel will fly on the first integrated launch of Orion and NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System. The uncrewed test flight, scheduled for 2018, will demonstrate the agency’s new capability to launch deep space missions. The vessel provides a sealed environment for astronaut life support in future human-rated crew modules, which could be used on missions to an asteroid and Mars.
Welding the pressure vessel’s seven large aluminum pieces, which took about four months, involved a meticulous process. Engineers prepared and outfitted each element with strain gauges and wiring to monitor the metal during the process. The pieces were joined 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.
At Kennedy, engineers will unload the pressure vessel into a fixture in the Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building. The structure will undergo testing to ensure that it’s sound before being integrated with Orion’s systems and subsystems.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado, is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.