Orion, the new NASA spacecraft under development to transport U. S. astronauts to an assortment of deep space destinations, including the asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars, has been powered up for the first time at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where it is being prepared for its first unpiloted test flight in the fall of 2014.
The testing last week went well, indicating the avionics and other electronic hardware have been installed properly, according to officials from NASA and Lockheed Martin, the spacecraft’s prime contractor.
Exploration Flight Test -1 will send Orion soaring to an altitude of 3,600 miles and two orbits of the Earth following a launch atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The unpiloted but instrumented spacecraft will splash down in the Pacific four hours after lift off — if all goes well – providing engineering teams with data on the performance of the heat shield and flight systems, while validating design decisions and computer models. Re-entry speeds of 20,000 miles per hour are anticipated. External temperatures on the spacecraft should reach 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The work we’re doing now, the momentum we’re building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development.
Performance details from the EFT-1mission could help to reduce the cost of future operations.
“It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we’re really getting to the good part now,” said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. “This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life.”
If all goes well, Orion will graduate to a second unpiloted test flight in 2017, launching aboard NASA’s new Space Launch System, the heavy lift rocket designed to start U. S. explorers on deep space missions.
The first crewed mission is planned for 2021 and would couple Orion with a crew of astronauts and the Space Launch System. The flight would takeU. S.astronauts into lunar orbit for the first time since the final Apollo moon mission in December 1972.