Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NASA Proposes 2014 Orion Test Flight

Click the arrow to watch an animation of the proposed test flight. Video source: NASA.

NASA announced on November 8 that it hopes to fly an unmanned test flight of the Orion crew capsule in 2014.

This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, SLS, and 21st Century Ground Systems programs.

Although the press release doesn't name a launch vehicle, Florida Today speculates it will be a "United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that would fly from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station."

The test will cost $370 million, according to Florida Today.

UPDATE November 11, 2011Spaceflight Now suggests that this announcement is "clearing the way for final contract negotiations for launch on a Delta 4-Heavy rocket."

The United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy is the largest U.S. rocket currently in existence, and it's needed to boost the Orion spaceship into an oval-shaped orbit stretching nearly 5,000 miles above Earth.

From there, the Orion will dive back into Earth's atmosphere at more than 20,000 mph, giving engineers key data on how the spacecraft responds to a re-entry at speeds nearly replicating what the capsule will see when returning from deep space missions to asteroids and other destinations.

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