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Space-bound Orion capsule to arrive in Florida next week

Posted: June 26, 2012

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Lockheed Martin Corp. is preparing to ship the pressure shell for the first space-bound Orion capsule from a Louisiana factory to the Kennedy Space Center, where it will be readied for liftoff on an orbital test flight in 2014.

Assembly of the Orion spacecraft's structural shell finished last week in Louisiana. Credit: NASA/Eric Bordelon
Technicians at Lockheed Martin's Michoud plant in New Orleans completed the final weld on the Orion spacecraft's core structure Thursday. Arrival at the Kennedy Space Center is scheduled for July 2.

Officials do not expect any impact to the shipment plans from Tropical Storm Debby, which is swamping Florida with flooding rains this week. Forecasters expect the system to move over the Atlantic Ocean by the end of the week.

The Orion capsule's first voyage in space - called Exploration Flight Test 1 - will verify the spacecraft's heat shield during re-entry at speeds mimicking what the capsule will experience on subsequent missions to the moon, asteroids, or other deep space destinations.

Speeds during the craft's re-entry will reach more than 20,000 mph as it plunges back to Earth from a peak altitude of 3,000 miles. NASA officials say the Orion spacecraft will experience temperatures up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit during re-entry.

The EFT-1 mission will blast off on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket in 2014.

ULA is modifying the Delta 4 rocket's launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the Orion test flight. The company is changing the configuration of the pad's work platforms and adding a new swing arm to reach the Orion spacecraft on top of the powerful booster.

Lockheed Martin and United Space Alliance employees will work on the Orion spacecraft inside the Operations and Checkout Building at the space center in the same high bay used to prepare Apollo missions for launch to the moon.

Technicians will install avionics, structural panels and a heat shield on the 16.5-foot-diameter capsule. Engineers will fabricate a mock-up of the Orion service module, the section which would house gas tanks and an engine on crewed flights.

An inert launch abort system will be attached atop the Orion spacecraft, but it will be inactive during liftoff, with only its jettison motors armed to separate the needle-shaped tower from the Delta 4 rocket during ascent.

Lockheed Martin is conducting the EFT-1 mission under contract to NASA.

The Orion spacecraft - also called the multipurpose crew vehicle - is NASA's next human-rated spacecraft designed for astronaut voyages beyond low Earth orbit.

Piloted Orion flights will blast off on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, which is scheduled for its first test flight in 2017. NASA's schedule calls for the first crewed Orion mission in 2021.