NASA is making steady progress on its Orion spacecraft, completing several milestones this week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the capsule’s first trip to space in December. Engineers finished building the Orion crew module, attached it and the already-completed service module to the adapter that will join Orion to its rocket and transported the spacecraft to a new facility for fueling.

“Nothing about building the first of a brand new space transportation system is easy,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “But the crew module is undoubtedly the most complex component that will fly in December. The pressure vessel, the heat shield, parachute system, avionics — piecing all of that together into a working spacecraft is an accomplishment. Seeing it fly in three months is going to be amazing.”

Finishing the Orion crew module marks the completion of all major components of the spacecraft. The other two major elements — the inert service module and the launch abort system – were completed in January and December, respectively. The crew module was attached to the service module in June to allow for testing before the finishing touches were put on the crew module.

The adapter that will connect Orion to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket was built by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is being tested for use on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket for future deep space missions.

During Orion’s flight test, the spacecraft will launch atop a Delta IV Heavy, a rocket built and operated by United Launch Alliance. While this launch vehicle will allow Orion to reach an altitude high enough to meet the objectives for this test, a much larger, human-rated rocket will be needed for the vast distances of future exploration missions. To meet that need, NASA is developing the Space Launch System, which will give Orion the capability to carry astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before.

The data gathered during the flight will influence design decisions and validate existing computer models and innovative new approaches to space systems development, as well as reduce overall mission risks and costs.

During the uncrewed flight, Orion will orbit the Earth twice, reaching an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles – about 15 times farther into space than the International Space Station orbits. Sending Orion to such a high altitude will allow the spacecraft to return to Earth at speeds near 20,000 mph. Returning at this speed, as fast as any spacecraft built for humans had endured since the Apollo Program, will expose the heat shield to temperatures close to 4,000º F, 80 percent of what the spacecraft would endure returning from the vicinity of the moon on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.

NASA and United Launch Alliance workers rolled out the first fully-assembled Orion spacecraft for a move to the facility where it will be fueled up for its December launch on the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission. Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

NASA and United Launch Alliance workers rolled out the first fully-assembled Orion spacecraft for a move to the facility where it will be fueled up for its December launch on the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission. Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

NASA, Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and ULA managers oversaw the move of the spacecraft Thursday from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy, where it will be fueled with ammonia and hyper-propellants for its flight test. Once fueling is complete, the launch abort system will be attached. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on the Delta IV Heavy.

Orion is being built to send humans farther than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. Although the spacecraft will be uncrewed during its December flight test, the crew module will be used to transport astronauts safely to and from space on future missions. Orion will provide living quarters for up to 21 days, while longer missions will incorporate an additional habitat to provide extra space. Many of Orion’s critical safety systems will be evaluated during December’s mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1, when the spacecraft travels about 3,600 miles into space.

For more information on Orion, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/orion

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