NASA’s first Orion crew module spacecraft structure shipped out Feb. 10 from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Denver facilities, where it will begin a grueling round of ground and water tests.

Once the spacecraft structure arrives in Denver, it will be integrated with a heat shield and thermal protection backshell before undergoing environmental testing.

“This is a significant milestone for the Orion project and puts us on the right path toward achieving the president’s objective of Orion’s first crewed mission by 2016,” said Lockheed Martin Vice President Cleon Lacefield, the company’s Orion program manager. “Orion’s upcoming performance tests will demonstrate how the spacecraft meets the challenges of deep space mission environments such as ascent, launch abort, on-orbit operations, high-speed return trajectory, parachute deployment and water landings in a variety of sea states.”

Lockheed began designing Orion in 2006 to launch astronauts atop the Ares 1 rocket on trips to the international space station and eventually the Moon.

President Barack Obama called last year for canceling development of Ares 1 and refashioning Orion to serve primarily as a space station crew lifeboat and technology test bed for deep space exploration. Under the NASA Authorization Act that Obama signed into law in October, NASA is expected to conduct by 2016 the first crewed flight of a capsule and heavy-lift rocket capable of taking astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

After the Lockheed tests are complete, NASA plans to run water landing tests of Orion at the Langley Research Center in Virginia.

Orion engineers plan to dunk the Orion capsule in a so-called Hydro Impact Basin, which is used to “test, validate and certify all human-rated spacecraft for NASA,” Lockheed officials said in a statement.



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