9–11 July 2018
Duke Energy Convention Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

SLS and Orion Closer to Taking Flight

Posted: 9 July 2018, 4:30 p.m. EDT

Moderator Doug Cooke, principal aerospace consultant, Cooke Concepts and Solutions; Chris Ciancola, deputy program manager, Space Launch System Program Office, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; Mark Kinnersley, Orion European Service Module resident liaison, Airbus Defense and Space; Charles Lundquist, deputy program manager, Orion Program, NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Scott Marston, vice president of strategy and business development, Propulsion Systems, Northrop Grumman; Julie Van Kleeck, vice president, Advanced Space and Launch Business Unit, Aerojet Rocketdyne

by Michele McDonald, AIAA communications manager

The hardware is coming together for Exploration Mission-1 of the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft with more testing in the next year, panelists discussed July 9 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.

“It’s an exciting time as we close in on the flight dates,” said Doug Cooke, a NASA veteran who began his career at the space agency one year after Apollo last flew and is now principal aerospace consultant with Cooke Concepts and Solutions. Cooke moderated the Forum 360 panel “SLS and Orion — Progress Toward Flight.”

“We’re at the dawn, I hope, of a new era in space exploration,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of the Advanced Space and Launch Business Unit at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

From using existing technology to creating new technology and techniques — including using the world’s largest welding tool — the complex systems to push to the moon and beyond are falling into place, panelists noted. The project stretches across numerous regions in the United States and includes multiple European countries.

“We’re basically assembling and outfitting at this point,” said Chris Ciancola, deputy program manager of the Space Launch System Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Testing of such crucial systems as Orion’s launch abort system, the Ascent Abort-2, is slated for next spring, said Charles Lundquist, deputy program manager for Orion at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The Ascent Abort-2 is like taking a vehicle off a speeding bullet, noted Scott Marston, vice president of strategy and business development with Propulsion Systems at Northrop Grumman.

For the Orion spacecraft, the timeline is crew module by 2022 and habitation module the following year. An airlock system to dock with NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway — a space station near the moon — is expected by 2026.


Participants in the panel discussion "SLS and Orion — Progress Toward Flight," July 9 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.

Testing resumes in August for the European Service Module at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, said Mark Kinnersley, Orion European Service Module resident liaison at Airbus Defense and Space. The module is a result of collaboration with the European Space Agency and the United States.

If some aspects of SLS and Orion look familiar, that’s because they are. People are surprised when they see the Orion crew module because they’re expecting “Star Wars,” not a repeat of Apollo crew module, Lundquist said. But, he added, the laws of physics haven’t changed.

The space shuttle also makes an appearance in the latest model in human spaceflight. The RS-25 engine powered 135 space shuttle flights and is being used for the SLS and Orion spacecraft. The engine used today is not the same one that took off 35 years ago, thanks to continual upgrades, Van Kleeck said.

Cooke noted that the heritage systems bring the understanding of reliability.

“Confidence in the system was a big deal,” he said.

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