Orion crew capsule powers up in preparation for deep-space flight test
Lockheed Martin and NASA recently fired up the power systems on the latest Orion crew module. The second Orion capsule slated for spaceflight and the first to be human-rated, this initial power-up at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida marks the first time that the spacecraft's vehicle management computers and the power and data units were installed and brought online.
The power-on test was part of the run up to the three-week Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2019, during which the unmanned Orion capsule and its service module will be launched atop NASA's Space Launch System on a deep-space flight test that will see it fly over 40,000 mi (64,000 km) beyond the Moon's orbit. This flight will test most of the avionics and subsystems that will be needed when later missions carry astronauts aboard.
Such unmanned testing is necessary because the computers and software need to reliably process 480,000,000 instructions per second to execute thousands of commands and sequences while controlling hundreds of spacecraft systems and components in a high-radiation environment in deep space. In addition, EM-1 will demonstrate the integrated system performance of the capsule and the solar power system capable of running eight three-bedroom houses.
For the tests, the vehicle management computers were connected to Orion's power and data units, and the engineers evaluated the ability of the systems to communicate with each other and route power and commands in the spacecraft. Over the next two or three months, the 55 components of the avionics will be integrated into Orion's almost 400 harnesses and subjected to functional tests.
"The initial power-on procedure verified the health and status of Orion's core computers and power and data units and marks the beginning of critical spacecraft subsystem tests to get us ready for flight," says Mark Kirasich, NASA Orion program manager. "Our test team, ground support equipment and flight systems all performed remarkably well during the test. This is a major milestone for Orion and for our long range deep space exploration plans."