At this writing,the constellation Orion has begun rising in the eastern sky shortly after nightfall,pleasing those both with and without telescopes.At the same time,its namesake spacecraft is steadily being prepared for its 2018 launch on Exploration Mission-1,the first unmanned,integrated test of the complete Orion deep space exploration system,including the Crew module,ESA Service Module and Space Launch System rocket,in a high orbit around the Moon.These preparations will continue throughout the new year,bringing the first manned,record-breaking test of Orion,Exploration Mission-2,ever closer - as soon as 2021.At that point,NASA plans one launch a year of Orion in pursuit of its deep space objectives.
If 2016 was a time for integrating structural elements into the spacecraft,and then critical systems such as avionics components and propulsion tubing,next year will unfold as:
1.In spring 2017,computers in the Crew Module for EM-1 will be turned on for the first time to verify that the spacecraft can route power and send commands in an integrated test to verify Orion's systems are connected and responding appropriately.
2.The ESA Orion Service Module that will propel and power Orion will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center after structural and systems work is finished up at Airbus Defence & Space in Bremen,Germany.
3.The heat shield will be secured onto the Crew Module in summer,and then the Crew and Service Modules will be stacked one on top of the other.In early 2018,this stack will be shipped to NASA Glenn Plum Brook Station,Ohio,where it will undergo tests in the dynamics of launch and the harsh environment of deep space flight.
4.Several parachute tests will take place over the Arizona desert to verify the safety of recovery operations.
5.Human factors tests such as a legibility test will help evaluate how humans interact with the new spacecraft.
6.Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin will carry out its own series of stress tests at its Denver facility.*
Even as these tests for EM-1 go on,construction work for the EM-2 Crew Module will begin in 2017.
Lockheed Martin (LMT)