Groups working on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week linked a U.S.-built Orion crew module with its European-made power and propulsion ingredient for the first time, a significant accomplishment forward of the spacecraft’s shipment to Ohio this fall for testing inside the world’s largest vacuum chamber.
The connection of the Orion spacecraft’s two main elements is a significant milestone as engineers prepared the vehicle for an unpiloted test flight to lunar orbit and back to Earth, a precursor to a follow-on mission that can carry astronauts back to the vicinity of the moon for the first time since 1972.
The first space mission beneath NASA’s Artemis program, recently named for the dual sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, will launch on top of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Delays within the development of the SLS rocket’s core stage have delayed the Artemis 1 launch from 2020 until 2021, a schedule slip formally acknowledged for the first time last week by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Vice President Mike Pence introduced the completion of the Orion spacecraft in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.
“Today, due to the hard work of the women and men of NASA and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and able to begin preparations for its historic first flight,” Pence stated.
The Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew module, with its base heat shield and thermal safety tiles, is now sitting on top of the moon ship’s service module manufactured in Europe by Airbus Defense and Space. The European space agency funded the development of the Orion service module beneath an agreement with NASA, giving European trade a critical function within the U.S.-led deep space exploration program.