02/23/2018 / By David Williams
In case you were wondering how far along current efforts are in bringing humans back to regions of space that are farther than low-Earth orbit, you’re in luck, as Lockheed Martin has recently issued a new update. It concerns the firm’s work in one of the major components of a spacecraft that will be used for space exploration missions in the future. Evidently, things are looking optimistic.
According to a post on the official Lockheed Martin website, humans will soon be able to travel far beyond the moon, as the global aerospace company has begun constructing the crew capsule that will be used to hold astronauts in their journey from the Earth to space. This is related to the construction of the Orion spacecraft which is going to be used for an unmanned space flight some time next year. They may have started small here, but the firm is quick to note that they have made important progress so far.
To be more specific, engineers and technicians working at Lockheed Martin have managed to weld together the first two components of the Orion crew capsule meant for use in Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). EM-2 will carry astronauts aboard a NASA spacecraft and go beyond low-Earth orbit for the very first time in almost five decades. Understandably, scientists and other experts are getting excited at the prospect and the progress that they have made.
According to Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and the program manager for the Orion project, there are a number of reasons why their progress is worth noting. “Orion has tremendous momentum,” he said in a statement. “This is not only the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its production will be more efficient than any other previous capsule.”
Hawes highlights the work that has been accomplished so far on the EM-2 pressure vessel, and urges people to compare it to the first one that they built. Based on official figures, the latest version is said to be a whole 30 percent lighter while having 80 percent fewer parts. That means that it is essentially a much more cost-effective and capable spacecraft.
For now, Lockheed Martin maintains that it will continue work on the construction of major components all the way into September of this year, when the individual parts is expected to amount to a total of seven: three cone panels, a large barrel, and an aft bulkhead will be added to the two parts welded initially. And once the work is finished, they will ship the resulting vessel to the Kennedy Space Center for final assembly and subsequent testing afterwards.
Although the first unmanned space flight with Orion is scheduled to happen some time in 2019, the first manned space mission isn’t expected to happen until August 2021 at the earliest. The plans for it still aren’t set in stone, but it’s said that the crew will fly around the Earth twice to make sure everything is working properly before setting out on its actual destination: the moon. Journeys to other places like Mars remain a distinct possibility.
Paul Anderson, the director of Orion EM-2 production, emphasized that their latest work resulted in lowering costs and improving manufacturing efficiency. “Each of these spacecraft are important,” he said, “but we realize that the EM-2 capsule is special as it’s the first one to carry astronauts back out to the moon, something we haven’t done in a long time.” Unless something that’s much better comes along, it’s liking likely that this is the current best solution for advancing space exploration.
Follow the latest updates on NASA’s upcoming missions through Space.news.