Orion EM-1
The Orion capsule for the EM-1 mission being assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Lockheed Martin is working to lower production costs for future spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

COLORADO SPRINGS — As Lockheed Martin prepares to complete assembly of the Orion spacecraft flying on the first Space Launch System mission, the company says it’s making progress in lowering the costs of the future spacecraft, including through reuse.

In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Mike Hawes, vice president and Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said the Orion crew capsule for the Exploration Mission (EM) 1 flight should be ready in June to be combined with the European-built service module, expected to arrive in the U.S. a little later in the summer.

“We’re anticipating a delivery date in early July” for the service module, he said. That will be followed by more than a year of integration and testing of the combined spacecraft. “The next year on EM-1, for us, is going to be just chockablock.”

The service module has been one of the pacing items in the schedule for the overall mission, along with the SLS core stage. “This is their first-time build, so they have had supplier challenges. They have had some assembly challenges,” he said of ESA and the service module prime contractor, Airbus.

Lockheed Martin has provided some technical support, including technicians the company sent to an Airbus factory to assist with service module assembly. “Airbus put us on contract to help their team by sending a few technicians to do cable harness work and some other things,” Hawes said. That experience was “very positive” and will help with later in the integrating and testing process.

Elements of the Orion spacecraft that will fly on EM-2, scheduled for launch in the early 2002s, are also in production, he said, including the pressure vessel and heat shield. The company is using experience from the EM-1 Orion, as well as the earlier Exploration Flight Test (EFT) 1 Orion mission in 2014, to find ways to lower costs for EM-2 and beyond.

“The places where we had some challenges on EFT-1 we haven’t repeated on EM-1,” he said. The company has revamped its flow of work on Orion in an operations and checkout built at the Kennedy Space Center, as well as made manufacturing improvements, such as procurement of materials and components from its suppliers.

Lockheed Martin is also finishing a proposal to NASA for future Orion production that will include cost reductions for later, “built-to-print” versions of the spacecraft. “Our goal is 50 percent [cost reduction] on the vehicle, and I think we’re going to be close to that,” he said.

Hawes said the company expects a “pretty healthy” cost reduction from EM-1 to EM-2 and EM-3, “on the order of 30-plus percent.” The rest of the cost reductions will come on later missions, although he didn’t give a specific date for achieving that 50 percent goal.

One factor in later cost reductions, he said, will be the reuse of Orion capsule components, including, eventually, the vehicle structure. “We have the internal component reuse that will start even between [EM] 1 and 2, but then when we get to reusing a structure, for instance, that factors in significant savings on a mission basis,” he said.

It will be well into the 2020s, though, before part of an Orion spacecraft is reflown. “The baseline that we’re looking at with NASA is that the EM-4 structure would refly as the EM-7 structure,” he said. That will depend, he said, on experience developed both building and flying spacecraft.

To help in that reuse planning, Hawes said the Orion team at Lockheed Martin is working with other parts of the company, including Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and the Sikorsky helicopter unit, to gain insights on airframe instrumentation and analysis in order to determine the best places to install instrumentation the Orion spacecraft, such as sensors to measure corrosion after exposure to seawater during splashdown and recovery.

Reuse and other manufacturing improvements will also help the company prepare for higher flight rates of Orion spacecraft in the future, with a long-term goal of one mission a year. “When you look at the flow of building a vehicle a year, or conducting a mission a year, it’s a pretty imposing schedule, which also tells us we should be starting EM-3 now,” he said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...