Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 2 mission, set to fly with a crew around the Moon in 2024, saw astronauts and service modules come together at NASA on October 19. From this point forward, a rigorous series of tests will be conducted to prepare it for the great lunar flight.
“The team will power up the combined crew and service module for the first time” NASA officials announced on October 23 (ref.). “Once ignition tests are completed, Orion will begin altitude chamber tests, which will put the spacecraft in conditions as close as possible to the environment it will experience in the vacuum of deep space.”
Orion spacecraft consists of three modules. European Space Agency‘s (ESA) service module, built by Airbus Defence and Space, which provides electricity, propulsion, air, and water. The crew module built by Lockheed Martin that will house the four astronauts. Finally, an adapter that connects the service and crew modules and links their electrical, data, and power systems.
ESA’s service module arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in October 2021. Since then, it has undergone testing in preparation for the major coupling near the launch pad in Florida. “Two important tests include the thermal cycle test, which evaluates how the vehicle will withstand temperatures, and the Direct Field Acoustic Test (DFAT), which assesses how the vehicle will withstand vibrations during launch”. ESA officials emphasized in a statement (ref.) the importance of the union, as the modules made in the United States and Europe now communicate with each other.
The crew and service modules are connected at six points surrounding the crew module’s heat shield, ESA officials added. “The data links, power, and fluid lines between the sections are arranged to bypass the heat shield” they added.
Road to Artemis 2
In 2024, further construction milestones will be reached. Solar arrays will be added, and the tanks will be filled with propellant. At that point, the connection of the service modules and Orion will be completed with the launch abort system in case of anomalies. All of this will be mounted on NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) on the day of launch.
Astronaut training for Artemis 2 continues. Soon, there will be operations in Earth orbit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, such as training with cameras for geological operations. Medical training and a simulated splashdown recovery exercise will also be conducted, officials wrote in a statement on October 19 (ref.).
The four astronauts aboard Artemis 2 include NASA Commander Reid Wiseman, NASA Pilot Victor Glover, NASA Mission Specialist Christina Koch, and Canadian Space Agency Mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen. Canada is part of the Artemis Accords, which cover both lunar exploration and peaceful norms for work in space. The country will contribute the Canadarm3, a robotic arm intended to work on NASA’s future Lunar Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon.