That streamlined approach will also apply to the way NASA and Lockheed Martin are handling the upcoming first flight test of Orion hardware. Instead of conducting the test, NASA is buying the test data from Lockheed Martin, and leaving it to the company to generate it. Experimental test flight No. 1 (EFT-1) is scheduled to lift off in September 2014 on a Delta IV heavy on a highly elliptical trajectory that will bring its instrumented Orion test article back into the atmosphere at 80% of the speed it would see on a lunar return. The test is designed to gather early flight data on 10 critical parameters, including how much margin is needed in the ablative Avcoat thermal-protection material on the capsule's reusable composite and titanium heat shield.
Crocker says the shield, fabricated in Littleton, is being readied for shipment to a Textron facility in Massachusetts this week. The EFT-1 launch vehicle is being built at the United Launch Alliance factory in Decatur, Ala., and the adaptor that will join the Orion to the Delta upper stage is being welded at nearby Marshall Space Flight Center. The integrated test lab in Littleton that allows hardware- and software-in-the-loop simulations has just been powered up for the first time, he says.
“By doing this the way we did we believe we were able to accelerate it a little bit,” he says, noting that the launch vehicle is either the pacing item or “right on the critical path” for getting the test flight off on schedule.
Sierra Nevada, under a $212.5 million Space Act agreement with NASA to develop the Dream Chaser, is also getting ready for the first free flight test of the test article it built in-house at its Louisville, Colo., factory. That helicopter drop from 12,000 ft. over Edwards AFB, Calif., is expected to demonstrate that the vehicle can glide to a runway landing. Jim Voss, Sierra Nevada program manager for the Dream Chaser, says the atmospheric test article will accelerate to about 300 kt. before touching down for a horizontal landing at 180 kt. Depending on test results, the company plans between 2-5 more of the 30-40-sec.-long tests.
Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems unit, notes the competitively awarded Lockheed Martin deal is a “significant, multi-million-dollar long-term contract” that is likely to expand as the project advances.
“We're going to combine the knowledge that Lockheed Martin has done through their work to date on the Orion program and around their entire space [and aircraft] portfolio with what we're doing,” he says.
Lockheed's experience in integrating robotic spacecraft hardware from around the world will prove beneficial as it works with EADS Astrium to meld propulsion/power hardware from the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) into the Orion service module it had originally planned to build itself. That hardware will include the narrow rectangular solar arrays that generate power for ESA's ATV when it delivers cargo to the ISS.
NASA has accepted the ATV hardware for the Orion service module in lieu of cargo deliveries with ATVs as ESA's barter payment for the U.S. portion of common systems operations costs on the ISS. Under the deal, reached late last year after the ESA ministerial conference in Naples, Italy, ESA will work with NASA to build one service module using ATV components and a surplus space shuttle orbital maneuvering system engine.
The agreement, which also includes ATV components for a second Orion service module, will cause a marked change in the appearance of the Orion concept that Lockheed Martin used to win the NASA capsule contract initially. Instead of the twin circular solar arrays the company proposed—the “Mickey Mouse Ears” that have been featured in most concept illustrations of the Orion ever since—the four narrow European arrays will be mounted aft of the crew cabin in the distinctive X-shaped configuration carried on the ATV. However, those European arrays may not survive the integration process, which Crocker describes as being at the “mid-year preliminary design review” stage.
“We've spent a lot of time and effort getting the mass down on this system,” he says. “That's one example of a place where mass can easily grow again. We didn't have the flex arrays there because they were cute. [They were] there for loads, and loads translate into mass.”