November 12, 2014 – NASA’s Orion spacecraft is at its launch pad after completing its penultimate journey in the early hours Wednesday. It arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:07 a.m. MDT, after a 22-mile, 6-hour journey from the Launch Abort Facility at Kennedy Space Center.
The Lockheed Martin built Orion will travel almost 60,000 miles into space Thursday, December 4 during an uncrewed flight designed to test many of the spacecraft’s systems before it begins carrying astronauts on missions to deep space destinations.
“This spacecraft is going to push the boundaries of scientific discovery and human achievement,” said Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion program manager. “One day, not too far in the future, an astronaut will leave the first footprints in the red dust of Mars, and we’ll look back and say that journey started here.”
After its arrival at the launchpad, the 50,000 lb. spacecraft was lifted about 200 feet up and mated to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket, which Lockheed Martin contracted for the flight. Over the next few weeks, the rocket and spacecraft will be integrated and powered up, and engineers will test and verify interfaces between the two in preparation for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1).
“It has been a tremendous team effort with all of our mission partners to get us to this point just one month prior to launch,” said Jim England, ULA’s EFT-1 program manager. “We are honored to play such a critical role in this important launch for NASA and are focused on providing mission success so that Orion can complete all of its mission objectives.”
During EFT-1, the uncrewed spacecraft will travel 3,600 miles beyond Earth—15 times further than the International Space Station. That same day, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. EFT-1 will provide engineers with data about systems critical to crew safety, such as heat shield performance, separation events, avionics and software performance, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment, and recovery operations to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in deep space.
“We’ve put a lot of work into designing, building and testing the spacecraft to get it to this point and I couldn’t be prouder of the whole team,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “Now it’s time to see how it flies. Sending Orion into space will give us data that is going to be critical to improving the spacecraft’s design before we go to an asteroid and Mars.”
The spacecraft, which includes the crew and service modules, launch abort system and the adapter that will connect it to the rocket, was completed in October. Orion is scheduled to liftoff at 7:05 a.m. December 4.