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NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and Booster Approaching First Launch

Uncrewed mission to launch in December

NASA’s new Orion manned spacecraft and its booster moved separately to Space Launch Complex 37 at Kennedy Space Center in preparation for a first launch in December, according to a NASA press release.

“Orion is almost complete and the rocket that will send it into space is on the launch pad. We’re 64 days away from taking the next step in deep space exploration.”

Orion left the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the final addition of its launch abort system, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy booster that will carry it into space was raised to its vertical launch configuration at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

orion capsule completed

The Orion crew module mated up to the service module. NASA photo

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” said Kennedy Director Bob Cabana. “Orion is almost complete and the rocket that will send it into space is on the launch pad. We’re 64 days away from taking the next step in deep space exploration.”

Orion’s final component to be installed is the launch abort system, designed to save the astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the crew module from atop a failing booster. The jettison motor, which separates the launch abort system from the crew module both in normal operations and in case of an emergency, will be tested during the upcoming crewless flight.

Future plans are for Orion spacecraft to venture to distant asteroids and to Mars.

The launch abort system will need to be stacked atop the already assembled crew and service modules and all three tested in preparation for being stacked aboard the Delta IV Heavy in November. The ULA booster’s three Common Booster Cores have already been tested, processed, and attached to each other to form the first stage beneath Orion’s service module.

Delta IV Heavy

The Delta IV Heavy booster erected vertically and awaiting the stacking of the Orion service and command modules with the Launch Abort System. NASA photo

NASA plans for this “Exploration Flight Test 1” are to boost Orion 3,600 miles above Earth to test critical crew safety systems while twice orbiting the planet. The crew module will then return to earth at 20,000 miles per hour, with the heat shield and tiled exterior reaching temperatures up to 4,000 degrees before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Future plans are for Orion spacecraft to venture to distant asteroids and to Mars. The crew module can sustain astronauts for up to 21 days, but would be mated to a larger habitat for longer missions.