NASA is preparing for the first test flight of the Orion crew vehicle set for launch on Dec. 4. The agency’s next generation spacecraft is designed to take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program to destinations such as an asteroid, the moon, and even Mars.
Orion’s first flight test, known as Exploration Flight Test 1, will not be carrying any astronauts aboard. Instead it will loaded with sensors measuring in detail every aspect of the spacecraft’s flight. During the flight test, Orion will make two orbits of the Earth traveling to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the planet before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 mph. The spacecraft will use a system of parachutes to decelerate the spacecraft and splashdown in the ocean like the Apollo missions did.
Orion will be carried into space by a Delta IV rocket for its first flight test. However, it is designed to be used with the Space Launch System, NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket that was just recently given the green light to begin development. The combination of the SLS and Orion crew vehicle will allow NASA to send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit and farther into space than ever before. Watch a mission preview of Orion’s flight test: