Lockheed Martin Corp. today unveiled a cavernous test facility at its Waterton Canyon site south of Denver, where full-size mock-ups of the space station and the front section of the Orion can be used to practice docking maneuvers.
Orion was originally part of President George W. Bush’s $100 billion moon mission, called Constellation. President Barack Obama canceled Constellation last year, saying the space program would instead focus on more advanced rocket technology.
Obama revived the Orion portion of the project two months later, with administration officials saying it would be the space station’s escape vehicle.
Lockheed Martin made no mention of that mission Monday, instead touting Orion as America’s next generation spacecraft that could first explore the far side of the moon then land humans on asteroids and eventually take them to one of the moons of Mars, where they could control robotic instruments on the surface.
Orion includes a module for crew and cargo, a service module for propulsion, electrical power and other requirements, and a launch-abort system to carry the capsule to safety if the booster rocket fails. NASA successfully tested the launch-abort system two weeks ago at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
Lockheed Martin is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion project. The company said it built the $35 million, 41,000-square-foot test facility, called the Space Operations Simulation Center, at company expense.
The first Orion capsule is being assembled in another building at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Canyon site. It will be used for ground testing and could possibly be launched into a suborbital test flight, said James Bray, Lockheed’s crew and service module director.
Bray said the test results will be used in the engineering of the first Orion capsule to fly in space. Work on that capsule is expected to start in August.
The first orbital space flight of an Orion capsule is expected in 2013, said John Karas, vice president and general manager for human space flight for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.
Lockheed Martin employs nearly 10,000 people in Colorado.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrats who pressed Obama to salvage the Orion project, said they were confident the spacecraft will fly, but neither discussed specifics in brief remarks at the dedication ceremony for the test building.
“The White House and the Congress both recognize the importance of this program,” Perlmutter said.