First flight: Orion stacked in preparation for EFT-1 mission
ith just six more months to go until its first flight into space, the Orion spacecraft is taking shape at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Orion’s first test flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), is currently scheduled to launch in December atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA )Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37.
Engineers started stacking the crew module atop of the completed service module on Monday June 9, beginning the process of moving the three primary elements of the Orion spacecraft- crew module, service module and launch abort system- into launch configuration.
“Now that we’re getting so close to launch, the spacecraft completion work is visible every day,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion Program manager. “Orion’s flight test will provide us with important data that will help us test out systems and further refine the design so we can safely send humans far into the solar system to uncover new scientific discoveries on future missions.”
Engineers will next secure the crew module in place and make the necessary power connections to the service module. The stacked spacecraft will then undergo electrical, avionic and radio frequency tests once the bolts and fluid connector between the modules are in place.
The spacecraft is being put together in what is known as the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell in the Operations and Checkout Facility at KSC. The integrated modules will be put through their final system tests there before rolling out of the facility to be integrated with the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
EFT-1 will see the Orion spacecraft carry out a 4.5 hour uncrewed flight that will take it more than 3,000 miles above Earth and test the systems critical for future crewed deep space missions. Orion will complete two orbits and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 20,000 miles per hour before its parachutes deploy to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The EFT-1 flight will also provide important information for NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System (SLS) and ocean recovery of Orion. The advanced adapter that connects the Orion spacecraft to the Delta IV Heavy rocket was developed by engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center located in Huntsville, Alabama. The adapter will also be used during future SLS missions. The Orion spacecraft will be recovered after splashdown by NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program and the U.S. Navy.
If everything goes according to plan on the EFT-1 flight, NASA will continue on its testing regimen before the spacecraft is mated with the SLS booster and launched on Exploration Mission 1, currently slated to launch in 2017.
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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.