JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — It’s been an active four weeks for those working on the development of NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
Key tests were a success, the Orion vehicle is starting to take shape and so far the project is on schedule. What was once a plan on paper —that was killed and then reborn — is becoming reality.
“Oh, it’s very real and very exciting,” Paul Marshall, the assistant program manager for Orion at Johnson Space Center, said.
“It’s just happed in the last three weeks. We’ve had several major things, major test successes, integrated tests we’ve been working up to for months.”
The Orion capsule’s parachute test in Arizona on May 1 was a milestone Marshall said.
An Orion prototype was dropped 25,000 feet from a C-17 airplane above the desert of Yuma, Ariz. and even after traveling at 250 mph, the parachute deployed and brought the spacecraft down safely.
It’s the highest speed the Orion prototype has gone during testing so far, officials said.
The test included two mock glitches to test how the system would respond to a failure of a component and even that went well Marshall said.
Structural tests on the crew cabin are underway at Kennedy Space Center. Orion developer Lockheed Martin will begin integrating propulsion and other electronic systems after that and by mid-summer, most of the structural systems and propulsion systems will be in place, Joe Mayer, director of government relations for Lockheed Martin in Florida, said.
“We have had several major things (in the past three weeks),” Marshall.
The Orion capsule’s heat shield structure was completed in Denver and shipped to Boston for application of the thermal ablative material before being shipped to Florida to be put on the flight vehicle.
Marshall said too that the testing of the avionics and associated software is ahead of schedule.
“Those are very big things that often take a lot of time,” he said.
Still, there are concerns that the ongoing budget stalemate between Congress and the White House that created sequester could affect the Orion program.
Not only would the budget strain force furloughs of the civil service employees who work for NASA, but would also push down the timelines for the planned commercial programs and the Orion program, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.
That in turn would put pressure on NASA’s commercial contractors to keep programs on schedule and keep their workforces at the needed staff levels.
The sequester has not had any immediate impact on Lockheed Martin’s work on Orion, but if it continues for more than six months or so, things get a little dicey, company officials said.
“In the near term, [the sequester] is not impacting us, but there’s no crystal ball for six months from now,” Anthony Taconi, Lockheed Martin’s manager for Orion Mission Success’s said.
Still, Taconi said he believes Congress is committed to seeing that Orion and the Space Launch System are successful.
“The longer the sequester is in place, the more of a threat it becomes,” Mayer said.