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NASA’s Orion Crew Module Successfully Completes Flight Test

Recovery crew approaching Orion after splashdown

Recovery crew approaching Orion after splashdown

NASA’s Orion vehicle, which paves the way for future human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit, lifted off at 7:05am, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Orion splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.  The purpose of the test flight was to allow engineers to collect critical data to evaluate its performance and improve its design. The flight tested Orion’s heat shield, avionics, parachutes, computers and key spacecraft separation events, exercising many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel beyond low-Earth orbit in Orion.

During the un-crewed test, Orion travelled twice through the Van Allen belt where it experienced high periods of radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth. Orion also hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere.  After recovery by the NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin team, Orion was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for processing. The crew module will be refurbished for use in Ascent Abort-2 in 2018, a test of Orion’s launch abort system.

On future missions, Orion will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket currently being developed at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Exploration Mission-1 is the first test of the integrated Orion and SLS system and will include a fully functional Orion Service Module built by the European Space Agency. Located directly below the Orion Crew Module, the Service Module will provide essential functions such as propulsion, power, thermal control and life-support consumables storage and distribution.

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