Welding engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have had an extremely busy winter assembling adapters that will connect the Orion spacecraft to a Delta IV rocket for the initial test flight of Orion in 2014. The adapter later will attach Orion to NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a new heavy-lift rocket managed and in development at the Marshall Center that will enable missions farther into space than ever before. The 2014 Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) will provide engineers with important data about the adapter's performance before it is flown on SLS beginning in 2017.
In a high bay of Marshall's Building 4755, expert welders using state-of-the-art friction stir welding machines worked on two separate adapters. For each adapter, a vertical welding machine stitched panels together to form a conical cylinder, then a circumferential welding machine attached a thicker, structural support ring at the top and the bottom.
"While the adapters are identical and are considered flight articles, only one will actually be used for EFT-1," said Brent Gaddes, Spacecraft & Payload Integration Subsystem manager. "The other will undergo strenuous structural testing to ensure quality, while its twin will make the trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration into the rest of the test vehicle for launch."
United Launch Alliance (ULA), which makes the Delta IV rocket in nearby Decatur, Ala., will deliver a full-size section of the rocket later this spring for engineers to test the fit of the adapter.
"You really don't have the tools and the resources in one place anywhere else in the world," said Justin Littell, a mechanical engineer with the welding group at the Marshall Center. "The work that we do here is exciting and I get to work with a great team. It's amazing."
See the friction stir welds in action in this video: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=161317831
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