NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will give an update Wednesday on the Orion spacecraft, which is being readied at Kennedy Space Center, for a first test launch in December from a Delta IV rocket.
Orion, being built by Lockheed Martin, is planned as the spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts 15 times deeper into space than ever before, with the initial goal being to explore an asteroid by 2025 and the long-term goal of heading to Mars. The first crewed flight is scheduled for 2021, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
This year's test flight, known as Exploration Flight Test-1, will not have a crew on board. It will launch from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 4 and send Orion 3,600 miles above Earth on a four-and-a-half hour mission. After two orbits, the spacecraft will re-enter Earth's atmosphere at a speed of almost 20,000 miles per hour, about 80 percent of the speed of a return from the moon. Orion will splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
The flight will be a test of Orion's life support systems and its heat shield, which is designed to withstand 4,000-degree temperatures.