WASHINGTON — The4 Heavy rocket that will launch a prototype of NASA’s Orion capsule on an uncrewed, Earth-orbiting test mission in early December was rolled out to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Sept. 30, said in a press release.
The mission, known as Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, is first and foremost a test of Orion’s heat shield, which will protect astronauts from the intense temperatures the spacecraft will encounter when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
In EFT-1, slated to lift off Dec. 4, the Delta 4 will send Orion into a highly elliptical orbit that will take the capsule about 5,800 kilometers above Earth, at the highest. After two orbits, Orion will re-enter the atmosphere at about 80 percent of the velocity the spacecraft would reach on a return from lunar orbit, and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
The EFT-1 Orion, which lacks systems such as life support and solar arrays that would be needed on a crewed deep-space mission, is now at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral awaiting integration with Delta 4.
Orion missions after EFT-1 will be launched by the capsule’s intended carrier rocket, the heavy-lift Space Launch System, whose development is being managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
of Denver is building three Orion capsules for NASA under an $11.76 billion contract NASA awarded in 2006 as part of the since-canceled Constellation Moon exploration program. Only the third of those capsules will fly with a crew on board. The contract includes $375 million for the EFT-1 mission, which was added to Lockheed Martin’s contract in 2013.