KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida - The goal of humans again walking on the Moon is one giant leap closer.
Lockheed Martin says it has completed building the capsule for NASA's Orion spacecraft. The crew module capsule for the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission to the Moon has been stacked on top of the Orion service module, which was also recently finished.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made the announcement Saturday at a ceremony in front of the Orion spacecraft in the aptly-named Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He was joined on stage by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana, Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson, and Rick Armstrong, son of Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong.
Just as NASA's goal 50 years ago was to prove the agency could land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth, the goal now is to return to the Moon in a sustainable way to prepare for the next giant leap, sending astronauts to Mars for the first time ever.
"Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity," Bridenstine said Saturday. "President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the Moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars. Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests need to accomplish this objective. NASA is calling this the Artemis program in honor of Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology, the goddess of the Moon. And we are well on our way to getting this done."
Engineers recently completed building and outfitting the Orion crew module at Kennedy. The underlying structure of the crew module, known as the pressure vessel, was manufactured at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and shipped to Kennedy, where teams have integrated thousands of parts into the crew module and conducted tests to certify all of its systems for flight.
Orion's European Service Module, which will provide the power and propulsion for Orion during the mission, also is complete. Contributed by ESA (European Space Agency), the service module was manufactured by Airbus in Bremen, Germany, and shipped to Kennedy in November 2018 for final assembly and integration. Engineers have begun operations to join the crew module to the service module, and teams are connecting power and fluid lines to complete hardware attachment.
Once the two modules are joined, engineers will install a heatshield backshell panel on the spacecraft and prepare it for a September flight inside the agency's Super Guppy aircraft to NASA's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Testing at Plum Brook will ensure the joined modules can withstand the deep space environment.
"Orion is a new class of spaceship, uniquely designed for long-duration deep space flight, that will return astronauts to the Moon and eventually take the first humans to Mars, and bring them all back safely." Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin said Saturday. "Orion will accelerate scientific discovery of our solar system and will be the cornerstone of the defining space achievement of this era."
Since the crew module pressure vessel arrived in Florida, technicians and engineers from Lockheed Martin, NASA and supporting contractors have assembled the capsule into its finished state. The work included installing the capsule's avionic computers, harnesses, propulsion system and its 12 engines, 11 parachutes, its large 16-foot-diameter heat shield, forward bay cover and numerous other systems and components.
"Throughout assembly, the team tested and validated the many systems a hundred different ways to ensure they will operate as designed in the harshness of deep space," Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin said Saturday. "The Artemis 1 flight will test the design and workmanship of the capsule and its service module during the three-week mission out around the Moon and back. We're excited for this mission as it paves the way for the first crewed mission in 2022, Artemis 2."
The crew module and service module were stacked together earlier in the week in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) cell where they are now being fully integrated, including connecting the physical retention bolts and the umbilical lines between the two modules. The FAST cell is also where the Apollo spacecraft were integrated.
The combined stack will then be powered up and undergo a series of integrated systems tests. In September, the combined stack will be shipped to NASA's Plum Brook Station in Cleveland, Ohio, where it will go through environmental testing in a large thermal vacuum chamber as well as testing for electromagnetic interference and compatibility.
Once Orion returns to Kennedy at the end of the year, the spacecraft will go through final preparations before Lockheed Martin delivers it to ground systems for launch processing in early 2020.