Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Welding Process for the Spacecraft atop the World’s Largest Rocket Begins

NASA is one more step closer to sending the astronauts to Mars. On Sept 5th, engineers from the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans successfully welded the first 2 segments of the Orion spacecraft’s main structure that will fly on Exploration Mission-1 – the first flight of Orion atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket (SLS).

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The main structure of Orion spacecraft is made of 7 large aluminum pieces that must be welded together in a detailed fashion. On Saturday, NASA engineers successfully completed the first weld that connects the tunnel to the forward bulkhead. Those two welded segments are at the top of Orion and house many of this spacecraft’s critical systems – for example, the parachutes deploying during reentry. The tunnel with a docking hatch will enables crews to move between the Orion crew module and other spacecraft.
At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, on Sept. 5, engineers welded together two segments of the Orion crew module’s primary structure that will fly on Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of Orion atop the NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. (Cr: NASA)
According to Mark Geyer – Orion Program Manager, “Each of Orion’s systems and subsystems is assembled or integrated onto the primary structure, so starting to weld the underlying elements together is a critical first manufacturing step. The team has done tremendous work to get to this point and to ensure we have a sound building block for the rest of Orion’s systems.”

To prepare for welding, engineers undertook a meticulous process. They cleaned the segments, protected them with chemical coating, and primed them. Then, they outfitted each element using strain gauges and wiring to monitor the metal during the fabrication process. Before starting work on the pieces, technicians practised the process, polished their techniques, and ensured right tooling configurations by welding together the pathfinder – a full-scale version of the present spacecraft design.
At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, engineers were welding together the crew module pathfinder in preparation the welding process. (Cr: NASA)
With good collaborations throughout design and manufacturing, the teams have been able to cut down on the number of welds for the Orion crew module by over half since the 1st test version of Orion’s main structure constructed and flown on the Exploration Flight Test-1 last December. There will include 7 main welds and some smaller welds (for the start and stop holes left by the welding tools) in the Exploration Mission-1. Fewer welds will help make the spacecraft lighter.

The diagram shows 7 pieces of Orion’s main structure and the order that they are welded together. (Cr: NASA)
During the upcoming months, when other pieces of the spacecraft’s main structure arrive at Michoud from the machine house across the country, engineers will inspect and assess them to make sure they address precise design requirements prior to welding. Once complete, this structure will be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida that it will be assembled with other elements of Orion, integrated with SLS, and processed before launch.


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