NASA’s new Orion spacecraft received finishing touches Thursday, marking the conclusion of construction on the first spacecraft designed to send humans into deep space beyond the moon, including a journey to Mars that begins with its first test flight Dec. 4.
The assembled Orion crew module, service module, launch abort system and adapter will reside in Kennedy’s Launch Abort System Facility until its scheduled rollout to the launch pad, set for Nov. 10. At the launch pad, it will be lifted onto the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space for its uncrewed flight test.
“This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low earth orbit, and in a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development “It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.”
The December flight test will send Orion 3,600 miles from Earth on a two-orbit flight intended to ensure the spacecraft’s critical systems are ready for the challenges of deep space missions.
During the 4.5-hour flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will travel farther than any crewed spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years, before returning to Earth at speeds near 20,000 mph and generating temperatures up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can download and print out a paper model of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and have it ready in time for the first flight test of the actual spacecraft! The printout includes directions for assembling the Orion along with labels for the parts so you can find out what critical role they perform on the actual spacecraft.
Orion is designed to launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, or SLS. It will eventually carry astronauts to deep-space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars.
First though, the Orion needs to successfully execute its flight test in December, a mission it will fly without a crew aboard. The cone-shaped spacecraft will be lofted about 3,600 miles above Earth before being sent into the atmosphere at high speed to evaluate Orion’s heat shield for use during missions where it will be coming back to Earth from beyond low Earth orbit.
Engineers installed a four-piece fairing over Orion during the weekend as the spacecraft continues its steady march toward launch in December. The panels will smooth the airflow over the conical spacecraft to limit sound and vibration, which will make for a much smoother ride for the astronauts will ride inside Orion in the future. The work marked the final major assembly steps for the spacecraft before it is taken to the launch pad in November and hoisted to the top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch it on a four-hour, two-orbit flight test. Orion will fly without a crew on this flight test, but is being designed to take astronauts beyond Earth orbit on missions to deep space to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is preparing for its upcoming flight test in December, and you can submit your name to be flown on the flight! Submit your name by following this link and your first and last name will be digitized and placed on a dime-sized microchip that will be stowed inside the uncrewed Orion spacecraft as it makes two orbits reaching up to about 3,600 miles above Earth before coming back and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Your name will also make it farther out into space on future exploration missions by NASA, too! You have until Oct. 31 to sign up to send your name into orbit and take this chance to write your name across the sky.
Technicians and engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installed the Launch Abort System atop the Orion spacecraft Friday as launch preparations continue for December’s launch. The LAS, as it is known, will not be active during this flight test but would, during future flights, be equipped to act within milliseconds to pull the spacecraft and its astronaut crew away from its rocket so the Orion could parachute back to Earth safely. For the upcoming Orion flight test, the LAS will have an active jettison motor so it can pull itself and the nose fairing away from the spacecraft just before Orion goes into orbit.
Standing an 18-story rocket on its tail so it can fly into space requires careful coordination among a team of pros along with an intense focus on safety and quality. The rocket in this case was the ULA Delta IV Heavy that is being prepped to lift NASA’s first Orion spacecraft into orbit during a flight test in December. You can read details about the move and lift that took place Wednesday morning here.
Orion is designed for deepspace missions that will fly astronauts to an asteroid and eventually on the journey to Mars. But there are important evaluations to perform first, before the spacecraft carries any people with it. That’s what this uncrewed flight test is for. This mission will see the Orion lofted into an orbit 3,600 miles above Earth using the Delta IV Heavy. The spacecraft will be steered back into the atmosphere for reentry at some 20,000 mph to gather data on the heat shield at speeds approaching those it will encounter when returning crews from deep space. Many of Orion’s other critical systems will also be evaluated during the important flight test.
The rocket that will carry an Orion spacecraft into orbit for the first time was moved to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday. Assembled inside the Horizontal Integration Facility adjacent to LC-37, the United Launch Alliance Delta IVHeavy will be lifted into its vertical position later. The Heavy configuration, which is made up of three Delta IV core stages with one RS-68 engine, is one of the strongest rockets available to NASA while the agency builds the Space Launch System.
The Delta IV Heavy will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a two-orbit, four-hour flight around Earth that will culminate with a high-speed entry into the atmosphere to test the heat shield’s ability to withstand return from deep space. Though this flight does not include any astronauts, Orion is being designed to fly people beyond Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program that landed astronauts on the moon from 1969 to 1972.