Lockheed Martin has started to build the spaceship that is expected to take astronauts to the Moon. On Thursday (Feb. 1), the global security and aerospace company, based in Bethesda, Md., announced its technicians had welded together the spaceship’s first two components at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
On Dec. 11, President Donald Trump signed a space policy directive calling for humans to return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use,” Trump said. “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to may worlds beyond.”
The Orion exploration spaceship is expected to be used for Exploration Misson-2, taking astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin. The flight, which will start atop the Space Launch System rocket, will lay the groundwork for NASA’s lunar Deep Space Gateway, leading to human missions to Mars.
“Orion has tremendous momentum,” said Mike Hawes, vice president and Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin. “This is not only the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its production will be more efficient than any previous capsule. For example, look at the progress we’ve made on the EM-2 pressure vessel compared to the first one we built. The latest version is 30% lighter and has 80% fewer parts. That equates to a substantially more cost-effective and capable spacecraft.”
The main structure of the crew module, or pressure vessel, is made of seven machined aluminum alloy pieces that are welded together. The first weld joined the forward bulkhead with the tunnel section that created the top of the spaceship. The pressure vessel will be built this spring and summer at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. When completed in September, it will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center, assembled and tested.
“The EM-1 and EM-2 crew modules are very similar in design, but we’ve made a lot of improvements since we built EM-1, including processes, scheduling and supply chain, all contributing to a lower cost and faster manufacturing,” said Paul Anderson, director of Orion EM-2 production at Lockheed Martin. “Each of these spacecraft are important, 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. It’s something we think about every day.”