The Orion crew module pressure vessel arrived in Cape Canaveral earlier in the month and is now being processed in preparation for the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) which will bring the spacecraft past the moon.
Secured to a test stand referred to as the "birdcage," the pressure vessel is touted as the vehicle that will take astronauts to deep space. According to Scott Wilson, NASA's Orion production manager, the arrival of the pressure vessel is an exciting event because its integration with a Space Launch System rocket is the first step to venturing further in space.
Before the Orion arrived in Florida, its seven large segments were welded together over the course of several months to create the pressure vehicle, its underlying structure. At the Kennedy Space Center, additional components will be fitted into the pressure vehicle. It will then be tested to assess structural soundness.
Throughout the next 18 months, more than a hundred thousand components will be arriving at Kennedy, all of which will be added to the spacecraft by technicians and engineers from Lockheed Martin and NASA. Lockheed manufactured the Orion.
After the spacecraft completes testing in Kennedy, it will be subjected to a new round of tests at Ohio's Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook Station.
"We want to make sure the vehicle itself is good for its mission ... We qualify our design," said Wilson.
The Orion spacecraft was first launched into space in December 2014. Taking note of results from that event, Lockheed redesigned the pressure vessel to have fewer parts and be 500 pounds lighter.
When the spacecraft is confirmed ready for flight, it will be integrated with the service module provided by the European Space Agency. After fueling, Orion will then be placed atop the SLS rocket to be launched, hopefully in 2018.
The spacecraft will go on a three-week mission traveling beyond the moon, going further than the Apollo missions. When Orion re-enters the Earth, it will be splashing down off the coast of San Diego in the Pacific Ocean.
If the EM-1 mission is successful, it will demonstrate NASA's capability to carry out deep-space missions in the future.