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The long road to launch: A timeline of Exploration Flight Test-1
Orion’s journey to launch tomorrow has been long and complex. Many different components from dozen of different contractors had to come together on schedule in order to make the flight a reality.
The initial welds on the vehicle’s pressurized hull began in September,2011 at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. After a nine and a half months of construction, the pressure vessel arrived at Kennedy Space Center’s Operations and Checkout Building in June, 2012. It was here, #3 on the above chart of Florida pad flow operations, that the capsule underwent final assembly. Click here for my post on the completion of Orion’s assembly.
In the O&C, Orion’s numerous subsystems were tested and installed, including avionics, thermal protection system, reaction control system, and heat shield. The inert Launch Abort System arrived in February, 2013 and the heat shield on December 4, 2013.
The capsule remained here undergoing final assembly for over two years until September 11, 2014, when it was rolled over to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility for fueling. Click here for my post on Orion’s rollover from the O&C to the PHSF.
While Orion was still in the Operations and Checkout building, its Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle arrived at Cape Canaveral. The starboard and core booster arrived in early March 2014 while the port booster and Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) arrived on May 6. The next day they were transported from Port Canveral to the Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - #2 on the chart - for inspection and testing ahead of integration. Instead of directly going to the HIF, the DCSS was sent to the Delta Operations Center - #1 on the chart - for checkout and testing. It remained here until August 29, when it joined the rest of the vehicle at the HIF. It was mated with the Delta Common Core Booster on September 12.
At the PHSF - #4 on the chart - where the capsule arrived on September 11, Orion’s toxic propellants were loaded, including thruster propellant for the Reaction Control System and fluids for the Environmental Control and Life Support System. The Orion shortstack, as the capsule and service module combination were called, was moved to the Launch Abort System Facility - #5 on the chart - after 16 days. Click here for my post on the vehicle’s transfer from the PHSF to the LASF.
Arriving here on September 28, the spacecraft was encapsulated under five ogive panels on October 3. These make the vehicle’s aerodynamics smoother during its climb uphill through Earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, the Launch Abort System was installed atop the capsule. While the LAS on EFT-1 will be inert, all future flights of Orion will carry live systems installed here. Click here for my posts covering Orion’s Launch Abort System installation.
While Orion was preparing to get covered in protective paneling, the Delta IV Heavy was rolled out to LC-37. The rocket left the HIF in the early morning hours of October 1, arriving shortly after sunrise. Erection was completed a few hours later. Click here for my post covering the booster’s rollout and erection at LC-37.
The spacecraft now complete, the Orion vehicle was moved to Launch Complex 37 overnight November 11-12. Integration atop the Delta IV Heavy was completed by the afternoon of the 12th. Click here for my post on the capsule’s move to the pad, and here for integration with the Delta IV.
Various tests, dress rehearsals, and inspections have been made in the past few weeks. The next major milestone for Orion’s voyage into space will occur later tonight when the Mobile Service Structure at LC-37 - #6 on the chart - begins rolling away from the launch mount towards its retracted position. First motion is expected at 11:05 PM EST tonight. Launch is projected for 7:05 AM EST tomorrow, December 4, 2014.
Through this entire 27 month process, EFT-1’s launch date has slipped only once - and then not due to manufacturing or testing schedules, but political factors. A Delta IV medium rocket’s December flight of a classified spy satellite was bumped up to Orion’s original launch window in September, with the latter taking their slot in December.