Orion stage adaptor complete

The Orion stage adaptor flight hardware ready to travel to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: NASA

The Orion stage adaptor flight hardware ready to travel to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: NASA

Launch configuration. Credits: NASA

Launch configuration. Credits: NASA

The stage adaptor that will connect the Space Launch System to Orion for its first mission is nearing completion. At the top, the Orion stage adaptor connects to Orion’s spacecraft adaptor, which sits directly below the European Service Module. At the bottom, the Orion stage adopter connects to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will give Orion its boost towards the Moon. But the Orion stage adaptor has another trick up its sleeve: holding and launching 13 cubesats and housing an avionics unit.

The 13 CubeSat 6U payloads are each the size of a large shoebox and weigh about 14 kg. They will hitch a ride to deep space safely stowed in the Orion stage adaptor and will include NASA research experiments and spacecraft developed by industry, international, and academic partners.

Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, flip the Orion stage adaptor to install the adaptor's diaphragm. Credits: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, flip the Orion stage adaptor to install the adaptor’s diaphragm. Credits: NASA

The CubeSats will be deployed after Orion separates from the Space Launch System. The Orion stage adaptor diaphragm (in black in these photos) provides a barrier to launch vehicle gases — such as hydrogen — from entering the Orion spacecraft, where astronauts will ride to lunar orbit on the second Exploration mission. The diaphragm is constructed of multiple layers of carbon-fibre with epoxy. The Orion stage adaptor measures about  5.5 m in diameter and 1.5 m tall.

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