T+3 hours, 57 minutes – Orion’s reaction control system thrusters fire for 10 seconds to refine its course back to Earth. The spacecraft is in the home stretch of its first flight test mission and is less than 1,600 miles above Earth and getting closer.
An Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California is flying over the Pacific Ocean near Orion’s landing zone to record the spacecraft as it returns from orbit. The aircraft is equipped with infrared and other cameras to see Orion as it comes through the atmosphere and opens its parachutes.
The Orion crew module is entering the lower Van Allen radiation belt again. All signs from the spacecraft continue to point to no problems.
The astronauts aboard the International Space Station watched video of the Orion Flight Test launch earlier today via monitors inside the orbiting laboratory. Orion’s flight path to a high point of 3,604 miles reached about 15 times higher than the station’s orbit.
Orion is proving very stable during this first-ever flight test. Splashdown in 59 minutes.
For the first time since launch, Orion’s crew module is on its own following the separation from the Delta IV Heavy second stage and the inactive service module. Orion’s on board computers and systems are controlling its positioning and flight path now.
Orion and the Delta IV Heavy second stage adjusted their positioning so the crew module can separate safely.
Orion’s launch and flawless mission thus far is an important first step in NASA’s journey to Mars. Read about the launch and its meaning here. We also have a video of the launch as seen from the umbilical tower at the launch pad this morning.
T+3 hours, 6 minutes – After reaching 3,604.2 statute miles above Earth, Orion is now heading back home at 20,000 mph. That speed is high enough to test the heat shield against temperatures approaching those Orion will see as it brings astronauts home from lunar orbit. Orion will encounter 8.2 Gs of force during re-entry, more than eight times the force of gravity.
The spacecraft’s reaction control system thrusters have been activated to steer the spacecraft later in the flight.
Flight controllers calculate that Orion will splashdown 1.3 nautical miles east of its prelaunch predicted target location about 600 miles west of Baja California. Two Navy ships, the USS Anchorage and USNS Salvor, are waiting in that area to pull the spacecraft out of the water. NASA and Lockheed Martin teams will work with Navy crews to recover Orion beginning soon after it descends to the ocean under its three parachutes.
AS Orion crosses 3,000-miles in altitude, the Navy and NASA recovery teams off the coast of California have deployed from the U.S.S. Anchorage and U.S.N.S . Salvor in two 7-meter boats and two 11-meter boats while they wait for the spacecraft to return and splash down in the Pacific.