Delta 4 rocket
Delta 4 rocket. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Major elements of the Delta 4 rocket that will launch NASA’s Lockheed Martin-built Orion deep-space capsule on its first uncrewed test flight later this year have begun arriving at the launch site in Florida, the Denver-based company said in a March 6 press release.

Two of the three cores the Delta 4 Heavy will use to loft Orion this fall were shipped to Florida from Alabama, United Launch Alliance (ULA) spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in a March 7 email.

“The third core is in final processing” at ULA’s Decatur, Ala., plant, Rye wrote.

Launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is targeted for late September or early October. In the test, Orion will be sent to a highly elliptical orbit and then plunged back into the atmosphere at about 80 percent of the velocity it would reach during a return from lunar space.

Although some Orion systems, such as life-support and solar panels, will not be ready in time for the test, other critical systems, such as the heat shield and parachutes, will get a full shakedown. Orion’s intended carrier rocket is the Space Launch System that NASA is building for missions beyond Earth orbit. That rocket is slated to launch an uncrewed Orion to lunar space in 2017, then fly a crewed mission in 2021.