Update: NASA Unveils New Orion Spacecraft

By  //  July 2, 2012

First Test Flight in 2014

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – Last Thursday was a major news day in America with a great deal of attention paid to the Supreme Court ruling on health care reform.

The Orion crew module is lowered onto a workstand in the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. (Image courtesy of NASA/Gianni Woods)

But quietly history of another kind was made at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday when the when the very first space-bound Orion crew capsule arrived here in Brevard County that day.

Orion will be flown on Exploration Flight Test-1, an unmanned test that is scheduled two years from now, but this morning the world got its first look at the future of human spaceflight as NASA unveiled the new spacecraft for the first time at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana was where the spacecraft was constructed before it was carefully shipped here last week for its final outfitting and heat shield installation.


NASA said the EFT-1 flight will take Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles and more than 15 times farther away from Earth than the position of the International Space Station.

The Orion spacecraft will return home at a speed of 25,000 mph. That’s about 5,000 mph faster than any human spacecraft has ever attained.

The Exploration Test Flight will mimic the return conditions that astronauts routinely endure as they return from missions beyond low earth orbit.

As Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will endure temperatures up to 4,000 degrees, which will be higher temrperatures  than any human spacecraft since NASA astronauts returned from the moon.

From left, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, Sen. Bill Nelson and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gather in front of the Orion spacecraft Monday at Kennedy Space Center. (Image courtesy NASA)

Initial launch

The first Orion will be launched using a Delta IV Heavy rocket operated by United Launch Alliance.

And while the Delta IV Heavy does provide enough of a lift for the basic EFT-1 flight plan and test mission, NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket will be needed for launching ambitious missions that are designed for deep space exploration.

Following the first test flight of Orion, NASA is planning an initial integrated flight test featuring an unmanned Orion carried aloft by and the Space Launch System rocket in 2017.

That test will examine the entire integrated exploration system and capabilities of Orion.

As designed, Orion will be able to carry astronauts to the moon, the asteroids, to Mars and on a host of other deep space missions.