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Orion Ground Test Vehicle Arrives at Kennedy
Orion test vehicle Image above: A crane is used to lift the Orion ground test vehicle from its transporter in the Operations and Checkout facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser
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Orion test vehicle Image above: The Orion ground test vehicle has arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center after traveling more than 1,800 miles from Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver. Photo credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser
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NASA's first Orion spacecraft, the ground test vehicle, arrived at Kennedy Space Center on April 20, after traveling more than 1,800 miles from Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver.

The vehicle is one of the key components that will help NASA move forward to future exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit. Orion will carry up to four astronauts on deep space missions to asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars.

"Orion's arrival at Kennedy marks the start of something new for the center," said Scott Wilson, who is manager of Orion Production Operations. "Although the center has always played a major role in the integration and launch of spacecraft, start of work on the Orion ground test and Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) vehicles represents the first time full spacecraft assembly and production will be performed here."

After it was delivered to the Operations and Checkout Building high bay, Lockheed Martin and United Space Alliance workers uncrated the spacecraft from its transportation fixture, removed its coverings and transferred it to an air-bearing pallet. The specially designed pallet enables a small crew to effortlessly maneuver spacecraft and hardware across the 90,000-square-foot factory floor during assembly, production and testing.

According to Orion Production Lead Ed Stanton, this test vehicle will remain at Kennedy for about a year while technicians perform tests and prepare it for transfer to Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. At Langley, the test spacecraft will undergo splashdown tests.

Glenn Chin, the NASA Orion production operations deputy manager for the Orion Program Office said that this ground test vehicle is important to the program since it's the first completely assembled Orion used for structural testing and pathfinder operations.

"We will continue to utilize the test article at Kennedy to learn and understand what improvements the team can make to be more efficient and effective for the next mission, which is the EFT-1," Chin said.

While the test vehicle is at Kennedy, technicians will perform a pyrotechnic device test to assess how the connector from the crew module would separate from the launch abort system and the type of damage that may occur to the capsule's tiles. The test will be conducted at Kennedy's Launch Equipment Test Facility.

The heat shield on the bottom of the crew module will be removed and replaced with a more flight-like heat shield that was built by Lockheed Martin and will be shipped to Kennedy for installation. The test vehicle will then be in its vehicle configuration for the splashdown test at Langley.

"I'm excited that it's here. We've followed it around the country for the last three years," Stanton said. "These are the first steps in the process to get to future exploration missions on NASA's Space Launch System."

Prior to its arrival at Kennedy, Orion already had been put through the paces of a series of acoustic and vibration tests. Not including the test vehicle, the Orion Program also has tested landing parachute validation, launch abort system verification and water impact tests to simulate landing conditions, at various NASA facilities.

"It is an exciting start to a new era of exploration," Wilson said.

NASA's EFT-1, built at the repurposed Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, will arrive at Kennedy in June. It is scheduled to launch on top of a Delta IV heavy in 2014.

EFT-1 will produce critical flight data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving re-entry speeds great than 26,000 miles per hour and safely return astronauts to Earth. NASA and its contractor teams will be able to focus on real-world flight test objectives, reduce or eliminate risks to crew, and move forward on Orion core systems development.

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center