WASHINGTON — The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 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, ULA 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.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.