NASA’s new Orion spacecraft now is at its launch pad after completing its penultimate journey in the early hours Wednesday. It arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:07 a.m. EST, where the spacecraft then was lifted onto a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in preparation for its first trip to space.
Orion will travel almost 60,000 miles into space Thursday, Dec. 4 during an uncrewed flight designed to test many of the spacecraft’s systems before it begins carrying astronauts on missions to deep space destinations.
The spacecraft, which includes the crew and service modules, launch abort system and the adapter that will connect it to the rocket, was completed in October and has since been awaiting its rollout inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although storms in the area delayed its move slightly, Orion completed its 22-mile journey with no issues.
“This is the next step on our journey to Mars, and it’s a big one,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “In less than a month, Orion will travel farther than any spacecraft built for humans has been in more than 40 years. That’s a huge milestone for NASA, and for all of us who want to see humans go to deep space.”
Once it arrived at Space Launch Complex 37, Orion was hoisted up about 200 feet and placed atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into orbit. Over the course of the three weeks that remain until liftoff, the spacecraft will be fully connected to the rocket and powered on for final testing and preparations.
“We’ve put a lot of work into designing, building and testing the spacecraft to get it to this point and I couldn’t be prouder of the whole team,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “Now it’s time to see how it flies. Sending Orion into space will give us data that is going to be critical to improving the spacecraft’s design before we go to an asteroid and Mars.”
Orion is scheduled to liftoff at 7:05 a.m. Dec. 4. During its two-orbit, 4.5 hour flight test, Orion will travel 3,600 miles beyond Earth. From this distance, Orion will return through Earth’s atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph, generating temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on its heat shield. The flight will allow engineers to test systems critical to safety, including the heat shield, parachutes, avionics and attitude control.