NASA provides an update on the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft after completing a comprehensive launch schedule review.
This uncrewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1, is a critical flight test for the agency’s human deep space exploration goals. EM-1 lays the foundation for the first crewed flight of SLS and Orion, as well as a steady cadence of missions thereafter near the Moon and beyond.
The review follows an earlier assessment where NASA weighed the cost, risk and technical factors of adding crew to the mission, but ultimately confirmed the original plan to fly EM-1 uncrewed. NASA initiated this review following the crew’s study and the challenges of building the core stage of the world’s most powerful rocket for the first time, issues with manufacturing and supplying the Orion’s first European service module and tornado damage to the agency’s Michoud assembly facility. in New Orleans.
“While the review of possible risks to the manufacturing and production schedule indicates a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing through December 2019,” NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said. “Given that several of the key risks identified have not actually materialized, we are able to put in place risk mitigation strategies to protect the December 2019 date.”
The majority of work on NASA’s new deep space exploration systems is well underway. The agency is using lessons learned from early builds to improve the efficiency of overall production and operations planning. To address the schedule risks identified during the review, NASA established new production performance milestones for the SLS baseline stage to increase confidence for future hardware releases. NASA and its contractors are supporting ESA (European Space Agency) efforts to optimize construction plans for schedule flexibility if contractor deliveries for the service module are delayed.
NASA’s ability to meet its agency’s baseline EM-1 cost commitments, which includes the SLS and ground systems, currently remains within original targets. Costs for EM-1 until a possible launch date in June 2020 remain within the 15% limit for SLS and are slightly higher for ground systems. NASA’s cost commitment for Orion is through Exploration Mission-2. With NASA’s multi-mission approach to deep space exploration, the agency has hardware in production for the first and second missions, and is preparing for the third flight. When teams complete the gear for one flight, they move on to the next.
As part of the review, NASA now plans to expedite a test of Orion’s launch-abort system before EM-1, and is targeting April 2019. Known as Ascent-Abort 2, the test will validate the ability of the launch abort system to bring the crew to safety if necessary during the ascent. Bringing forward the test date before EM-1 will reduce the risk for the first crewed flight, which remains on track for 2023.
Both on the rocket and the spacecraft, NASA uses advanced manufacturing techniques that have helped position the country and American companies as world leaders in this field. For example, NASA is using additive manufacturing (3D printing) on over 100 Orion parts. When building the rocket’s two largest core-stage structures, NASA welded the thickest structures ever joined together using self-reacting friction stir welding.
SLS has completed the welding of all major mission structures and is on track to assemble them to form the largest rocket stage ever built and complete the EM-1 ‘green run’, an engine test that will fire the central stage with all four RS-25 motors at the same time.
NASA is reusing the avionics boxes from the Orion EM-1 crew module for the next flight. Avionics and electrical systems constitute the “nervous system” of launch vehicles and spacecraft, linking various systems into a functional whole.
For ground systems, infrastructure at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is intended to support systems exploration, including launch, flight, and recovery operations. The center will be able to support the evolving needs of SLS, Orion, and commercial partner rockets and spacecraft for more flexible, affordable, and responsive domestic launch capabilities.
EM-1 will demonstrate safe operations of the integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, and the agency is currently exploring a deep space gateway concept with U.S. industry and space station partners for potential future missions near the Earth. Moon.
“Material progress continues every day for the first flights of SLS and Orion. EM-1 will mark a significant achievement for NASA and for the future of our nation’s deep space human exploration,” said William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate. from NASA in Washington. “Our investments in SLS and Orion will take us to the Moon and beyond, advancing American leadership in space.