10 December 2014

Orion Test Flight – Our First Step Back Into Space
Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge UK

A successful inaugural test flight of the Orion spacecraft was carried out by NASA last week.

While the flight was uncrewed, the capsule is designed to transport astronauts and begin a new era in human space-flight-back to the Moon, and potentially as far as Mars.

Orion was launched atop a Delta IV heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida and travelled round the Earth twice in 4.5 hours. This took the spaceship out to a distance of around 5,800 Km – about 15 times higher than the International Space Station, and further than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

At such altitudes the effects of radiation become hazardous for any passengers and electronics on board, so the flight provided an important test of the radiation protection in the capsule.

As Orion fell back to Earth, it entered the atmosphere at a speed close to 30,000 km/h (a check of how well it's heat shield performs under temperatures of over 2000degC) and descended with parachutes before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off Baja, California.

This is very much the first stage of development as we'll have to wait till at least 2020 before the first launch is planned with a crew of astronauts aboard.

Outreach Newsletter
Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge UK

NASA spacecraft successfully completes debut test run
Reuters Science Report extract

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – “I think it’s a big day for the world, for people who know and like space,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said before the launch.

The point of the test flight, which cost NASA about $375 million, was to verify that Orion’s 16.5-foot (5-meter) diameter heat shield, parachutes, avionics and other equipment would work as designed prior to astronauts flying aboard.

NASA has been developing Orion, along with a new heavy-lift rocket, for more than eight years. The design of the rocket has changed, and Orion survived the cancellation of a lunar exploration program called Constellation to become the centerpiece of a new human space initiative intended to one day fly astronauts to Mars.

NASA has spent more than $9 billion developing the Lockheed Martin Corp-built Orion, which will make a second test flight, also without crew, in about four years.

A third mission, expected around 2021, will include two astronauts on a flight that will send the capsule high around the moon. Since the end of the Apollo moon program in 1972, astronauts have flown only a few hundred miles above Earth.

Orion’s debut flight originally had been slated for Thursday but a problem with the rocket, built and flown by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed and Boeing Co, delayed the launch one day.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Source: Reuters                             

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