December 5th, 2014

Sy Liebergot

Perfect Test Flight for Orion!

Early this morning, the new Orion module design was put through a full flight test (designated EFT-1). This is not the final vehicle but a first version of the capsule which may get NASA back to manned spaceflight. This flight is the furthest we've sent a capsule (though unmanned this time) from Earth since the Apollo 17 flight.



It lifted off on a Delta IV Heavy and went up into orbit. (Above image is a long-exposure view of the launch.) After a first orbit of the Earth, the upper stage of the central rocket fired to take the vehicle into a high elliptical trajectory. (Below image is a view of Earth's limb from later portion of the flight.)



As it came around the other side of the planet, this brought it down into the atmosphere. It plunged down, ultimately landing in the Pacific about 630 miles SW of San Diego. It appeared to be in fine shape, bobbing upright in the waves (the position known as "stable-1").



One odd metaphor from commentary as it came down: "This is a golden spike in the bridge to the future of spaceflight." Um... Okay. The golden spike was where rail lines met (and not a bridge IIRC). Makes it sound like aliens rendezvoused with us in high orbit there. :)


Congrats to NASA and the team for a great test flight. The vehicle was packed with cameras and sensors so hopefully this will be a wealth of data as they complete the craft's design. Next major milestone will be the test of the new booster stack, currently slated for 2017. We'll see how the program progresses (and if it continues to be funded).

Coverage:
http://www.space.com/27936-nasa-orion-spaceship-survives-test-flight.html
http://www.space.com/13566-photos-nasa-orion-space-capsule-test-flight.html
http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/12/05/space-nasa-idINL2N0TP0I020141205




The other exciting event coming up is New Horizons' approach to Pluto. On the way, though, it'll be waking up to photograph a small Kuiper belt object, temporarily designated VNH0004. This is scheduled for January 2015. The flyby of Pluto will occur in July 2015.