The failure of a power unit on the Orion capsule slated to fly on SLS’s first test flight late in ’21 could delay that test flight by as much as an additional year.
Replacing the PDU isn’t easy. The component is difficult to reach: it’s located inside an adapter that connects Orion to its service module — a cylindrical trunk that provides support, propulsion, and power for the capsule during its trip through space. 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.
Lockheed has another option, but it’s never been done before and may carry extra risks, Lockheed Martin engineers acknowledge in their presentation. To do it, engineers would have to tunnel through the adapter’s exterior by removing some of the outer panels of the adapter to get to the PDU. The panels weren’t designed to be removed this way, but this scenario may only take up to four months to complete if engineers figure out a way to do it.
A third option is that Lockheed Martin and NASA could fly the Orion capsule as is. The PDU failed in such a way that it lost redundancy within the unit, so it can still function. But at a risk-averse agency like NASA, flying a vehicle without a backup plan is not exactly an attractive option. It’s still not clear what went wrong inside the unit, which was tested before it was installed on the spacecraft, according to a person familiar with the matter.
None of these options are good. The first two will certainly delay the planned November 2021 launch, which by the way is already four years behind schedule. The third will risk a failure of the mission, which though unmanned would certainly lead to further delays in the manned mission expected one or two years later.
That they don’t know why the unit failed and cannot fix it easily speaks very badly to the design of Orion and SLS. Compare this with SpaceX, which in the past month has demonstrated it can in only days switch out engines on both its commercial Falcon 9 rocket and its new next generation Starship rocket. Moreover, SpaceX has demonstrated repeatedly that once they identify an issue they move immediately to understand it and fix it.
With NASA, Orion, and Orion’s contractor Lockheed Martin, such flexibility and agility appears all but impossible. They have designed a monster that cannot be fixed easily, cannot launched quickly, and costs an ungodly amount of money.
I increasingly believe that Starship will reach orbit before SLS/Orion, even though the latter has been in development for almost three times longer, and will cost 25 times more.
Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!
From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space
, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.
does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.
“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.
All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.
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