8 Things to Look for During Orion’s Flight

Graphics by Aimee Crane, words by Sarah Schlieder

EFT1_InfoG Orion is launching December 4 on its first test flight. This launch involves more than just a rocket that goes WOOSH! Orion will reach a height of 3,600 miles—15 times higher than the International Space Station—and orbit the Earth twice during the 4.5 hour mission. Want a closer look at what will take place during flight? Here are the eight things you can expect to see on Orion’s first flight. Orionsketch1




It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be bright. It’s going to be smoky. Engines are fired, the countdown ends and Orion lifts off into space atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.



It’s time to fly! The protective panels surrounding the service module are jettisoned and the launch abort system separates from the spacecraft.

Orionsketch3 Re-ignition

Orbit 1 is complete! The upper stage will now fire up again to propel Orion to an altitude of 3,600 miles during its second trip around Earth.



It’s now time to prepare for reentry. The service module and upper stage separate so that only the crew module will return to Earth.



Orion’s first flight will be uncrewed, but that doesn’t mean we can allow Orion to return to Earth upside down. This test flight will help us test the control jets to ensure that they can orient the capsule in the correct reentry position.

Things are heating up as Orion slams into the atmosphere at almost 20,000 mph and encounters temperatures near 4,000 degrees F.   Orionsketch7


After initial air friction slows the capsule from 20,000 mph, Orion will still be descending at 300 mph—too fast for a safe splashdown. A sequence of parachute deployments will create drag to further slow the spacecraft to a comfortable 20 mph.



Orion will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, where it will be recovered with help from the United States Navy.

Orion’s first flight has been successfully completed. Next step: deep space.

See this graphic as one page.

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Complete


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.

Fairing Installed Over Orion

ogivecompleteEngineers 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.ogiveinstall1

Fly Your Name on Orion


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.


Launch Abort System Installed for Orion Mission

2014-4196Technicians 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.



Delta IV’s Move, Elevation a Story of Coordinated Success

deltaivlift-4Standing 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.

Orion’s Flight Test Rocket Moves to Launch Pad

Courtesy United Launch Alliance

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.


Fueled Orion Taken to LAS Facility

Orionmove-photo3NASA’s new Orion spacecraft will make its first trip to space in December. The spacecraft took a much shorter trip Sunday when it was moved from a specialized fueling facility at Kennedy Space Center to the Launch Abort System Facility to continue the preparations necessary for launch.

The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem happens during launch, by pulling Orion away from a failing rocket. Because this first Orion flight will be uncrewed, the abort motor that would fire to pull the spacecraft away is not active. However, the jettison motor which will separate the launch abort system from the crew module in both emergencies and normal flights, is one of the critical systems being tested on Orion’s flight test.

Attached to an interstage, Orion will eventually be mounted to the top of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and launched on a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will test the Orion heat shield under high speed conditions similar to those it will encounter when returning from deep space missions with astronauts aboard.