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.
Orion is not carrying any people, but NASA wants to find out all it can about how the spacecraft behaves in flight and what conditions it encounters in orbit and during re-entry. That’s why there are 1,200 sensors in place throughout the spacecraft and inside the cabin.
They will gauge the heat shield, radiation levels and exact conditions as Orion flies an orbital pattern that will take it through high radiation zones of the Van Allen belts and of course the scorching temperatures of coming back through the atmosphere. The spacecraft is now more than 2,100 miles above Earth on its way to a peak altitude of about 3,630 miles.
Orion has passed through the lower Van Allen belt and remains on course as it flies through space. Flight controllers are maintaining contact with the craft through its telemetry systems.
2 hours and five minutes into flight, Orion is entering the lower Van Allen belt which contains intense levels of radiation. The cameras onboard Orion have been turned off to protect them. It will take 15 minutes to pass through this zone. The spacecraft will encounter it again on its way back to Earth in another hour-and-a-half.
“Everything going perfectly on the maiden flight of Orion,” reports NASA TV commentator Rob Navias.
T+2 hours – Second Stage Engine Cutoff Two has put Orion on its proper flight test path heading away from Earth before the altitude peaks and it begins coming back for re-entry. The second stage and service module will remain connected with Orion until the T+3 hour, 9 minute point of the mission.
Orion just finished its first orbit of the two it will make during this flight test. All systems go ahead of the second stage re-ignition in five minutes to push Orion to an altitude of about 3,630 miles.