The structural spine for NASA’s new Orion capsule that will be used in the unmanned EM-1 mission to the moon in 2018 arrived at the Kennedy Space Center last week and now NASA is showing it to the world like a proud father.

NASA Unveils Pressure Vessel For New Orion Capsule
Source: Pixabay

Orion Capsule is a long ways from finished

The pressure vessel arrived at Kennedy Space Center after a flight on NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft the agency uses for awkwardly sized cargo based on the 1950s Boeing 377 “Stratocruiser” passenger plane but with a fuselage modified to take on oversized cargo making it resemble a pregnant (flying) fish.

While the EM-1 mission is a unmanned mission to the moon, its purpose is to get NASA closer to a manned journey to Mars some time in the 2030s to fulfill the agency’s “Journey to Mars” program.

NASA along with Lockheed Martin will now have roughly two years to install the systems that will make a mission to the moon a reality, these installations will require well over 100,000 different components necessary to make the trip.

“Unmanned mission to the moon” is a bit of a misnomer as the flight will take the capsule, with the help of NASA’s newest and biggest rocket the Space Launch System (SLS) thousands of miles past the moon and then return the capsule to Earth. The mission will take roughly three-weeks round trip.

Orion will carry a crew

Assuming NASA can get the funding it requires, the agency plans to repeat the mission, with a few modifications, with a human crew three years later in 2021.

“We are targeting the first crewed flight for around 2021 on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2),” Mark Geyer,, deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Recently told Universe Today.

“Achieving the 2021 launch date depends on received a sufficient budget to achieve the mission milestones and timelines.”

Orion pressure vessel was put together in New Orleans

The vessel, that again, is the core of the capsule that will be taken beyond the moon and back is olive green in color and present weights about 2700 pounds, is roughly 10 feet tall and over 15 feet in diameter. The “human component” was assembled by primary contractor Lockheed Martin and NASA at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility.

Presently, the vessel does not have the thermal protection it need for a trip into space and back and will be considerably larger at launch once the heat shield is installed. Additionally, it will become much, much heavier by the time the aforementioned 100,000 components are installed.

We plan to power on this Orion one year from now,” Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion vice president and program manager is on record as saying.

“The structure shown here is 500 pounds lighter than its Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) counterpart,” said Hawes. “Once the final structural components such as longerons, bolts and brackets are added, total crew module structural weight savings from EFT-1 to EM-1 will total 700 pounds.”

The team that has gotten the pressure vessel to this point is effectively done now with the engineers and hard work now falling to the Kennedy Space Center.

Beyond the myriad additions tasked to the Florida team,  “the crew module will undergo several tests to ensure the structure is perfectly sound before being integrated with other elements of the spacecraft. First it will undergo proof-pressure testing where the structural welds are stress tested to confirm it can withstand the environments it will experience in space. The team will then use phased array technology to inspect the welds to make sure there are no defects. Additional structural tests will follow including proof-pressure testing of the fluid system welds and subsequent x-ray inspections,” say NASA officials.