NASA had intended to rebuild its human spaceflight program with the Orion capsule in 2014, with a manned launch in 2016, but it’s been announced that this has been pushed back to 2021.
The maiden test flight is fast approaching, and as planned, the Orion capsule will make two loops around Earth before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. It’s the first step of the proposed human spaceflight program. The capsule will be sent far beyond the lower Earth orbit of the ISS.
Orion’s orbit will peak at nearly 3,700 miles from Earth, which is the farthest that a NASA spacecraft has gone since the early 1970s. The reason for this distance is so that engineers get to test the heat shield. The test will allow them to determine if Orion can survive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, where temperatures are expected to reach up to 4,000 degrees.
The flight will also test 10 key systems whose failure could be disastrous for astronauts. The flight will cost $375 million. Since the retirement of the space shuttle program, at least 6,000 jobs have been lost.
The rocket that will launch Orion in 2021 is still under development, is being built by Boeing and ATK. Orion has already cost $6 billion. The test flight will use the Delta IV rocket to launch itself into space.
[via Philadelphia Inquirer]