Orion spacecraft readiness may come down to the wire for NASA’s Artemis I mission around Moon

NASA’s upcoming Artemis I mission is a major step toward sending the first woman and next man to the Moon in this decade. The first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft is on track for November 2021, and the uncrewed lunar flyby mission will clear the way for SLS and Orion to carry astronauts.

The Verge was first to report on an unexpected hiccup in Orion’s readiness to fly, however, and the timeline for a fix could come down to the wire for Artemis I.

In early November, engineers at Lockheed Martin working on Orion noticed that a power component inside the vehicle had failed, according to an internal email and an internal PowerPoint presentation seen by The Verge. The component is within one of the spacecraft’s eight power and data units, or PDUs. The PDUs are the “main power/data boxes,” for Orion according to the email, responsible for activating key systems that Orion needs during flight.

“We are fully committed to seeing Orion launch next year on its historic Artemis I mission to the Moon,” a Lockheed Martin representative told The Verge. Lockheed Martin adds that the power and data unit is “fully functional” without the failed channel, but the report outlines the difficulty of actually fixing the failed power component.

To get to the PDU, Lockheed Martin could remove the Orion crew capsule from its service module, but it’s a lengthy process that could take up to a year. As many as nine months would be needed to take the vehicle apart and put it back together again, in addition to three months for subsequent testing, according to the presentation.

NASA published its own summary of Orion’s issue shortly after The Verge broke the story:

While powering up the spacecraft to prepare for the pressurization of the crew module uprighting system, which ensures the capsule is oriented upward after splashdown, engineers identified an issue with a redundant channel in a power and data unit (PDU) on Orion’s crew module adapter. The team is continuing with other closeout activities while troubleshooting the issue, including installation of temporary covers to ensure components are protected during ground processing and fit checks for bonded tile on the crew module side hatch.

The agency has heavily highlighted progress toward finalizing Orion for flight including installation of the forward bay cover used to protect the spacecraft when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

As for NASA’s rocket that will send Orion to the Moon, Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi is on track to complete final testing of Space Launch System’s core stage this month.

The rocket will go through what’s called a wet dress rehearsal as early as next week, and the final test step in which engineers fire the mega rocket in place for up to 8 minutes to collect data before flight is scheduled for the week of December 21.

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