For the moment, Europe is formally committed to making just the one module. But Esa member states will be asked in December to put the funds behind a second unit. The current, first unit was priced with Airbus at 390m euros; a second module would be used on Orion's first manned outing, EM2, a mission scheduled for "no later than April 2023".
It would be a major surprise if the member states rejected the proposal. For one thing, the first module has been given "free" to Nasa as an in-kind payment to cover Esa's costs at the space station. If Europe does not offer another module, it will have to cover those ongoing costs in some other way.
But, more than all that, Orion and the SLS are regarded by many as the future of human exploration beyond Earth, and Europe wants to be - as Esa boss Jan Woerner put it - "part of that game".
"I hope we can convince the member states as well as Nasa that we should go beyond this first flight model, for a second and maybe even more, and through that having a barter element for European astronauts flying on the SLS system," the director general added.
If European participation does become routine - and Nasa is talking about one or two flights per year eventually - then an industrial role in the service module will likely have to be found for the United Kingdom. It only recently joined Esa's human spaceflight programme, and has no components in the first vehicle.
But it is entitled to some sort of manufacturing return on its Esa investment.
Agency and Airbus officials said on Thursday they were already looking at how that "juste retour" could be fulfilled in the future.
Replicating the thunderous noise of a rocket launch is no easy task, but engineers at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio are mimicking the launch environment the Orion spacecraft will experience on a 2018 mission beyond the moon. They recently concluded a series of tests on a structural representation of the Orion service module to help ensure it can withstand the force and pressure of the acoustics environment it will experience as it makes its way from the launch pad to space atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.
Orion’s service module is a critical piece of the overall spacecraft. Provided by ESA (European Space Agency) and built by Airbus Defence & Space, the 13 ton component will be responsible for propelling, powering and cooling the vehicle, as well as providing air and water for its eventual crew.
When a powerful rocket launches, it can produce noise of up to 180 decibels, levels so high that it can vibrate and damage spacecraft components if they aren’t designed and built to be strong enough to withstand the environment. For comparison, a person standing about 325 feet away from a jet taking off would experience approximately 130 decibels of sound pressure, and for every additional 10 decibels, sound intensity increases 10-fold.
While engineers have designed Orion components to endure a range of harsh environments like launch and missions in space, testing on the ground helps to validate computer modeling predictions.
“Orion is undertaking an unprecedented mission, so the acoustics testing we’ve done is helping us make sure the service module will fare as we expect it to,” said Aron Hozman, lead engineer for the acoustics testing campaign.
Engineers performed numerous evaluations at different decibel levels over the course of several weeks in Plum Brook Station’s Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility. The facility is the world’s most powerful spacecraft acoustic test chamber. In it, a series of modulators or horns embedded on one of the facility’s walls and supporting subsystems such as a gaseous nitrogen generation system and a hydraulic supply system were used to modulate noise and produce a wide range of acoustic spectrums.
The series of testing was done in two configurations – one with “wet” tanks where the service module’s propellant tanks were filled with a simulant that modeled the density of Orion fuel, and with them empty to determine if the noise affected the structure differently. The maximum test with fuel simulant lasted approximately three minutes. Engineers also used the testing to help qualify the service module’s solar array wing. They placed a microphone inside the test article and determined that the noise in the test chamber matched the expected acoustic environment inside the service module where the wing is housed.
The service module structural test article will next move to Plum Brook Station’s Mechanical Vibration Facility, a powerful spacecraft shaker system that will help assess the component’s ability to withstand the tremor that an SLS launch will produce. As these ground tests continue to validate the service module’s design, the first flight unit service module for EM-1 is now being built in Europe. This unit, which will be built by the same teams who built the structural test article, recently arrived to Airbus’ facility in Bremen, Germany for integration. It is expected to be shipped to the United States in 2017.
Second Starliner Begins Assembly in Florida Factory
Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. In the background is the Starliner Structural Test Article.
Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Another major hardware component for Boeing's second Starliner spacecraft recently arrived at the company’s assembly facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome – basically one half of the Starliner pressure vessel – arrived at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, closely following the arrival of the lower dome and docking hatch in early May.
The three components will be outfitted separately with wiring and lines, avionics and other systems before the pieces are connected to form a complete Starliner the company is calling Spacecraft 1. From there, it will be outfitted with electrical and fluid systems before engineers will attach the outer thermal protection shielding and the base heat shield that will protect the crew during re-entry.
The upper and lower domes are distinctive with the honeycomb pattern machined into the aluminum to reduce weight and increase strength to handle the flight stresses. The domes are created using a weldless spin forming process that is then machined into the honeycomb pattern.
Later, engineers will use bolts to connect the upper and lower domes for final outfitting. It takes a team of Boeing suppliers across the country to develop the domes before they arrive in Florida, including Spincraft based in North Billerica, Massachusetts, performing the spin-form work, Janicki Industries in Layton, Utah, machining the lower domes and Major Tool & Machine in Indianapolis machining the upper domes.
This vehicle will be the first Starliner to fly in the company’s pad abort test to prove the launch abort system planned for the spacecraft will be able to lift astronauts away from danger in the event of an emergency during launch operations. The test is planned to occur prior to true flight tests of the Starliner atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program contracted Boeing to build the Starliner as part of the effort to return America's ability to launch crews to the International Space Station. The agency also selected SpaceX to build that company's Crew Dragon which will also deliver astronauts to the space station.
Currently, only Russian Soyuz spacecraft are able to take astronauts to the orbiting laboratory where research is under way in numerous disciplines that will improve life on Earth and to understand and find solutions for the challenges that astronauts will face in the future on deep space missions.
The work on this Starliner is beginning as the Boeing team finalizes construction of the first Starliner, a structural test article that will be used for ground testing. The NASA and Boeing teams will compare test results to the requirements and expectations for the spacecraft as it nears flight tests with and without crew members aboard.
After completion of assembly at Kennedy, the structural test article will be shipped to Huntington Beach, California, where it will be subjected to numerous structural tests including a modal survey, critical load conditions, structural integrity, ordnance-actuated shock levels and the performance of the system that will separate the crew module from the service module.
Thermal, vacuum, and electronic interference chambers will be used to evaluate aspects of the Starliner's ability to withstand the rigors of flying astronauts in the hazardous environment of low-Earth orbit. The service module for the test article was shipped at the end of May to Huntington Beach and is expected to be joined by the spacecraft in June.
The service module, which is discarded at the end of the mission just before the Starliner and crew descend into Earth's atmosphere and land, holds propellant tanks along with the four large launch abort system engines that will push a Starliner and its astronauts out of danger in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch countdown or on ascent into space.
Starliners will fly into space aboard Atlas V rockets built by United Launch Alliance. Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a few miles south of the Starliner assembly building, is being modified to host astronauts to enter the spacecraft and their ground support team ahead of a launch.
The Crew Access Tower's main structure is complete and the Crew Access Arm will be installed later this year. Boeing is targeting 2017 for an uncrewed orbital flight, then a flight test with astronauts in early 2018 that will dock with the space station before returning to Earth.
One of the lower domes for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is machined to create 1,500 pockets in the formed blank of space-grade aluminum alloy. The pockets required hundreds of machining hours and leave the domes with a honeycomb pattern that reduces weight but preserves the structure's strength.
Credits: Janicki Industries
The upper and lower domes of the Starliner structural test article are joined inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility.
The lower dome of the Starliner's Spacecraft 1 assembly as it arrived in Florida for manufacturing.