Multi-Payload Processing Facility Provides ‘Gas Station’ For NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

By  //  September 20, 2016

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facility can accommodate one or more payloads

The 19,647-square-foot Multi-Payload Processing Facility is where Orion will receive its flight load of propellant, high pressure gasses and coolant. After years of design work, state-of-the-art equipment now is being tested. (NASA Image)

The 19,647-square-foot Multi-Payload Processing Facility is where Orion will receive its flight load of propellant, high pressure gasses and coolant. After years of design work, state-of-the-art equipment now is being tested. (NASA Image)

(NASA) – The first stop when loading up the family car to go on a long trip usually is the gas station. Before NASA’s Orion spacecraft launches on deep-space missions, an important step to “fill ‘er up” will include a visit to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

At the MPPF, Orion will receive its flight load of propellant, high pressure gases and coolant in a building where recently completed modifications now are being tested.

“After years of design work and installation of state-of-the-art equipment, we now are testing elements of the facility,” said Skip Williams, project manager for the spacecraft offline element integration team.

“This is the validation and verification phase to make sure we’re ready when Orion’s crew module and its service module arrive before EM-1.”

EM-1, or Exploration Mission 1, will be Orion’s first flight atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. During the three-week mission, the spacecraft will venture 40,000 miles beyond the orbit of the moon, farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever traveled, testing the systems needed for the agency’s journey to Mars.

The 19,647-square-foot MPPF originally was constructed in 1995. True to its name, the facility can accommodate one or more payloads in processing at the same time depending on their size.

An example of the MPPF’s abilities included payload processing for space shuttle missions STS-95 and STS-88. Also, prior to STS-99, the large Shuttle Radar Topography Mission payload was tested and verified, occupying more than 95 percent of the facility’s high bay space.

Design work to support Orion began in 2007. The Boeing Design Lab helped develop the complex, integrated engineering strategy for the facility.

The extensive upgrades and modernizations began in 2013. It was a part of Kennedy’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program’s overall effort to build a premier, multi-user spaceport.

leo-180“Just about everything in the building from the floor to the ceiling was modified to support Orion,” Leo DeCesare, Construction of Facilities project manager in Kennedy Engineering.

“That includes extensive pipelines in the walls to support the new environmental control system and carry the commodities that will be loaded aboard the spacecraft.”

According to Williams, a second processing stand like the one that will surround Orion could be built and accommodated by the current facility infrastructure.

“There is room inside this high bay to accommodate a test stand of similar size,” he said. “We are building this to not only support Orion, but other payloads that could benefit from the capability we’re building into this facility.”

The Orion crew module for EM-1 now is being assembled inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy. The next step will be to mate the spacecraft to its service module. The combination then will move to the MPPF.

“When Orion arrives here, its tanks are empty,” said Williams. “This is where we load monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide for the service module main engine and the crew module and service module reaction control thrusters. Also, ammonia for the cooling system and a Freon loop for the service module heat exchanger.”

The thrusters provide the spacecraft with steering capabilities while flying in space and as it plunges through the atmosphere during re-entry. The heat exchanger helps cool electronic systems while powered up on the ground.

On the top level of the service platform, engineers and technicians check out some of the ground support equipment that will be used to service Orion spacecraft inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility.

On the top level of the service platform, engineers and technicians check out some of the ground support equipment that will be used to service Orion spacecraft inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility. (NASA image)

Due to the hazardous nature of the fueling operation, technicians will wear self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble, or SCAPE, suits. These breathing air supplied rubber garments provide protection in the event they are exposed to the highly toxic hypergolic fuel or oxidizer.

These activities can be monitored, and mostly, controlled from the Firing Room in the Launch Control Center (LCC). DeCesare pointed out that adjacent to the processing high bay is the communications room with state-of-the-art monitors and control systems to make this possible.

“Our instrumentation is connected to the LCC where test conductors can follow the loading of the commodities,” he said. “In addition to the instrumentation, the platforms that surround the vehicle are equipped with operational TV cameras so test conductors can look in on these operations.”

Once commodity loading and tests are completed in the MPPF, the next stop will be the Launch Abort System Facility where the Orion spacecraft will be fitted with its launch abort tower and fairing assembly. From there, it’s on to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating to the SLS rocket prior to rollout to Launch Complex 39B.

Williams noted that much of the ground support equipment in the MPPF is on wheels.

Now that the upgrades and modifications to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility are complete, engineers and technicians are testing systems and equipment. Validations began on July 7 and will continue through July of 2017.

Now that the upgrades and modifications to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility are complete, engineers and technicians are testing systems and equipment. Validations began on July 7 and will continue through July of 2017. (NASA image)

“This will make it easier to move things around to support other payloads that may be processed here,” he said. “In addition, this is considered a class ‘100K,’ clean room.”

The “100K” or 100,000 clean room designation signifies that there are less than 100,000 particles greater than half-micron in size in any cubic foot of air. This provides an environment in which sensitive spacecraft systems are protected from contaminants.

Upgrades also include installing new pneumatics systems for gaseous helium, gaseous oxygen, gaseous nitrogen and breathing air and a ground cooling system, all necessary to process a human-rated spacecraft.

The facility also is equipped with a 40,000-pound capacity crane to move equipment and has backup generators in the event of a power failure.

The MPPF also will be the first stop when Orion returns from space.

“We’ll de-service the spacecraft to remove any of the commodities left in its tanks,” Williams said. “Since much of these elements are hazardous, we don’t want them leaking somewhere else.”

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Now that the upgrades and modifications are complete, testing is underway.

“Validations began on July 7 and will continue through July of next year,” DeCesare said.

Williams had high praise for those who worked on the MPPF modification project since it began in 2007. It included teams from the Kennedy Engineering directorate, NASA’s Engineering Services Contract (ESC) organization, Jacobs Technology under the Test and Operations Support Contract (TOSC), most NASA centers, especially the Orion Program office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and numerous NASA contractors along with ESA (the European Space Agency), which provided expertise on requirements for vehicle processing.

“Many contributed to the successful project,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to those folks.”

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