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NASA's Orion capsule moves to KSC fueling facility

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA's Orion exploration capsule Thursday morning took an important step toward a planned first test flight in December, moving from the high bay where it was assembled to a fueling facility at Kennedy Space Center, Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports.

"I'm excited as can be," Scott Wilson, NASA's Orion production operations manager at KSC, told Florida Today. "For some of us this has been 10 years really in the making."

Standing about 40 feet tall, the test version of the crew capsule and service module sitting on a rocket attachment fixture rolled out of KSC's Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building around 8:15 a.m. atop a 36-wheeled payload transporter.

The transporter drove about a mile to KSC's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, where tanks feeding the spacecraft's 12 maneuvering thrusters will be filled with hydrazine propellant. Ammonia cooling and helium pressurization systems also will be loaded.

After several weeks Orion will move to another facility to be topped with a launch abort tower, after which the entire stack will stand more than 80 feet tall.

That's the last major step before Orion will be ready in mid-November to roll to its Delta IV Heavy rocket to prepare for a targeted Dec. 4 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The mission called Exploration Flight Test-1 is a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion about 3,600 miles up, farther than a spacecraft designed to carry people has travelled since the Apollo era.

The flight will test Orion's heat shield as the capsule reenters the atmosphere at 20,000 mph, about 80 percent of the velocity of a return from the moon, and test avionics, parachutes and other systems.

The first launch of astronauts in an Orion from Kennedy Space Center, atop NASA's super-heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, is tentatively planned in 2021 or 2022.

NASA expects to spend $8.5 billion to $10.3 billion to develop Orion for its first crewed flight, not counting $4.7 billion spent during the cancelled Constellation program.