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First Space-bound Orion Reaches NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

NASA's first Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle reaches the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The basic spacecraft lacks the heat shielding and the other outer elements that will connect the capsule to its rocket launcher. Image Credit/NASA photo

NASA hosted ceremonies on Monday marking the arrival of the first space-bound  Orion/Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center launch site inFlorida.

The spacecraft, manufactured by Lockheed Martin at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La., is scheduled for an unmanned test flight in 2014 . Exploration Flight Test-1, launched aboard a Delta IV rocket, will loft the capsule to a distance of 3,600 miles from Earth to demonstrate the four person spacecraft’s ability to withstand the heat build up associated with a high speed atmospheric return from a planetary mission.

The Orion/MPCV is the centerpiece of NASA’s plans for a human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and the exploration of the Martian environs, starting in the mid-2030s.

“Orion’s arrival at Kennedy is an important step in meeting the president’s goal to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who participated in the ceremony. She noted that Orion and its eventual booster, the NASA developed Space Launch System, is part of a larger U.S. strategy to turn over the orbital cargo and crew missions flown by the now retired space shuttle to multiple commercial operators.

 ”As NASA acquires services for delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station and other low-Earth destinations from private companies, NASA can concentrate its efforts on building America’s next generation space exploration system to reach destinations for discovery in deep space,” said Garver. “Delivery of the first space-bound Orion, coupled with recent successes in commercial spaceflight, is proof this national strategy is working.”

A follow on unmanned Orion test flight, tentatively planned for 2016 from Kennedy, would exercise the capsule’s launch abort capability, a key safety feature that would pull the spacecraft and crew away from their launcher in an emergency. NASA is looking to a Peacekeeper missile as the launch vehicle for the test.

A launch pad test of the abort system was successfully carried out at White Sands, N. M., in 2010.

The first launching of the Orion/MPCV on NASA’s SLS, also unmanned from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, is targeted for 2017.

NASA's Space Launch System lifts off with Orion spacecraft in this illustration. Image Credit/NASA

The initial crewed launch of the new capsule is planned for 2021, perhaps earlier. The Orion/SLS/crew combination would be launched from Kennedy. The Orion is designed for an ocean splashdown — in the waters off the U. S. West Coast.

“That date is really driven by budget,” explained Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion project manager, “Today, we are planning for the 2021. I believe we can do better than that.”

NASA’s Orion, SLS and ground support activities are led by the Johnson, Marshall and Kennedy space centers in Houston, Tex., Huntsville, Ala., and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The new capsule’s Kennedy greeting party included an Orion production team that will apply heat shielding thermal protection systems, avionics and other subsystems to the spacecraft. The first space bound version of the capsule reached the Florida launch site without those key components. The Florida production team is estimated at 400 personnel.

Work also is underway by Kennedy’s Ground Systems Development and Operations team to modify and refurbish facilities used throughout the history of American spaceflight in preparation for the next generation of rockets and spacecraft. This includes Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Control Center, launch pad, mobile launcher and crawler-transporter.




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