The first orbital test flight of NASA’s Orion crew capsule will lift off on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 37B launch pad. The rocket will send the unmanned crew module 3,600 miles above Earth — 15 times higher than the International Space Station’s orbit — then drive the capsule back into the atmosphere at 20,000 mph to simulate a re-entry at near lunar return velocity.
Orion’s software, avionics, separation systems, and heat shield are among the systems to be tested on the EFT-1 mission. The 16-foot-diameter capsule will encounter temperatures up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit during re-entry before parachuting into the Pacific Ocean for recovery by a U.S. Navy vessel.
T-0:00:07 Main engine start
T+0:03:56 Separation of port and starboard Common Booster Cores
T+0:05:33 Separation of center Common Booster Core
The year ended with a deluge of big news, reminding us of the risks of spaceflight and the thin margins between success and failure on the final frontier. 2014 was also a year of breakthroughs in the exploration of the solar system and the future of human spaceflight.