Orion Spacecraft To Launch Thursday


NASA plans to launch its experimental spacecraft Orion on Thursday morning, atop a Delta IV rocket. The unmanned spacecraft, which is the prototype for a manned ship that will carry four astronauts to deep space, will orbit the Earth twice, reaching a distance of 3,600 miles above the planet. Lockheed Martin is the main contractor for the project. The launch is scheduled for 7:05 a.m. Eastern time, weather permitting. NASA plans to measure the effects of radiation on the interior of the spacecraft, and also test the heat shield during re-entry. The entire mission is expected to take about four and a half hours.

At 17 minutes, 39 seconds following liftoff, the Orion will be in an initial orbit of 115 miles by 552 miles, NASA said. Two hours into the flight, the second stage will ignite to send Orion through the Van Allen radiation belts to a peak altitude of 3,609 miles, some 15 times higher than the International Space Station, where instruments will record the radiation doses inside the cabin — critical safety data for future manned missions. Its mission complete, the spacecraft will descend under a parachute into the Pacific Ocean, where recovery crews will be waiting.

With lessons learned from Orion’s flight test, NASA said it will work to improve the spacecraft’s design while building the first Space Launch System rocket, a heavy booster with enough power to send the next Orion around the moon for Exploration Mission-1. Following that, astronauts are gearing up to fly Orion on the second SLS rocket on a mission in 2021 that will return humans to deep space for the first time in more than 40 years. These adventures will lay the groundwork forfuture human missions to an asteroid and to Mars, NASA said.