NASA scientists look ahead to Orion's maiden flight
With the launch date of the Orion next-generation spacecraft approaching fast, NASA scientists have set out what they hope to learn from its maiden launch. The test flight, dubbed EFT-1 is the first of three proving missions set to trial many of the in-flight systems essential to the success of any manned mission to Mars, or beyond.
EFT-1 will take the form of an unmanned test flight, with the Orion spacecraft being controlled entirely by a flight control team based in NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The launch promises to be a historic occasion, representing a significant milestone on mankind’s journey to Mars. Orion, the product of more than 50 years of experience, will be the first human-rated spacecraft to be constructed in over 30 years.
Weather permitting, Orion is slated to be launched into space atop a Delta-2 Heavy rocket on December 4th of this year. The flight is expected to last four hours and 25 minutes, during which time the spacecraft will see itself launched 3,600 miles (5,794 km) above Earth, with the objective of creating the same kind of intense re-entry pressures that would be experienced by the capsule upon return from a deep space mission.
NASA staff on the ground will be nervously monitoring several key aspects of the proving mission, with the help of 1,200 additional sensors geared towards detecting vibration and temperature stress, while taking detailed measurements of event timing. Furthermore, cameras are set to be mounted aboard Orion to capture the action at key separation points, as well as views out of the windows of the capsule, and a live shot of the parachutes as they deploy (hopefully).