Since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, NASA has been revamping its program and now it is finally ready to test its latest manned spacecraft, Orion – which will be used for deep space explorations in the future.
Orion boosts of the largest heat shield ever built, a computer 400 times faster than the ones on the current space shuttles and the most powerful rocket NASA has ever made. Orion’s three parachutes are big enough to cover a football field. The test, which will be conducted on December 4th this year, will have no astronauts aboard on the spacecraft.
“Before we can send astronauts into space on Orion, we have to test all of its systems,” said NASA engineer Kelly Smith, who works on Orion’s guidance and navigation systems. “And there’s only one way to know if we got it right – fly it, in space.”
The four and half hour journey, which Orion will undertake will see it orbit Earth two times, carrying the modules 3,600 miles above Earth, or about 16 times higher than the average altitude of the International Space Station, before plunging back in the atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and landing in the Pacific Ocean.
One of the tests involving on the first flight will see the spacecraft fly through the radiation of the Van Allen belts and test the aircraft’s ability to withstand searing temperatures twice as hot as molten lava and protect both humans and systems inside the space capsule.
Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer added, “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.”
“In the future, Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. More powerful than any rocket ever built, SLS will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and eventually Mars.” added the agency.
With Orion NASA has been able to get the American public engaged in space program again. And it hopes that the spacecraft brings in a new era of deep space exploration.