WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Space Systems, prime contractor on NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule, is rigging a mockup of the four-seat spacecraft with the wiring, avionics and flight software it will use for its first mission to lunar space in 2018.
Lockheed released the photo above May 13, when it moved the latest Orion mockup into the Orion Test Lab located at the company’s Littleton, Colorado, campus outside of Denver. Initially, the mockup crew module will be tested alone. Later, Lockheed will connect the module with software simulations of other hardware, such as Orion’s European-made service module — the part of the spacecraft that houses the engines and fuel tanks.
Eventually, the crew and service modules will be connected with softeware-simulated stages of the Space Launch System: The mammoth, NASA-designed rocket scheduled to launch Orion to lunar orbit in 2018 and 2022. Only the second mission will be crewed.
Lockheed’s Orion prime contract, awarded in 2006 for the since-canceled Constellation moon exploration program, is worth about $12 billion. If NASA’s plans hold, Orion will become the first crewed spacecraft to leave Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Orion has already flown in space. A bare-bones version of the spacecraft, without crew or life support systems, launched in December aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The two-orbit test flight was designed to evaluate Orion’s heat shield, which protects astronauts from the extreme temperatures all spacecraft experience when they reenter Earth’s atmosphere.
Here’s a Lockheed Martin video featuring highlights of the mission, which NASA dubbed Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1.
And here’s a video of the EFT-1 mission created with the realistic space simulation game Kerbal Space Program by a YouTube caster called Momo.