Orion – Facts About NASA’s Next Generation Spacecraft
All About The Orion Capsule!
Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA decided to resume exploring outer space. To accomplish this they would need a vehicle which can remain in space for months at a time, protect the astronauts from the radiation in deep space and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at very high speeds. The Orion capsule is similar in design to the Apollo capsule although it is larger, reusable, incorporates advanced technological advancements and can transport more astronauts to and from space. The capsule is intended for travelling to and from Earth, any long-duration spaceflight will need to take place in a separate, possibly docked, cruise habitat craft.
How Will Orion Get Into Space?
Orion will launch atop an enormous new rocket called the Space Launch System (or SLS for short) which is currently being developed and will be capable of shooting Orion beyond Earth! The SLS, once completed, will be the most powerful rocket ever built with more power than the Saturn V moon rocket. The SLS uses technology from the rocket that launched the Orbiters such as the strap-on boosters.
Testing And Orion’s Next Flight!
Orion was launched on the Delta IV Heavy on the 5th of December 2014 and orbited the Earth twice as part of its first unmanned flight test. The flight tested many parts of the Orion capsule such as its computers, structure, radiation protection, internal (& external) systems and Orion’s heat shield as the capsule re-entered Earth's atmosphere at 32,200 kph (20,000 mph) with temperatures exceeding 2,200 °C! Wow, that’s hotter than Lava!
The next step for the Orion capsule and the SLS will be an unmanned combined launch and flight test, finally followed by crewed flights. Maybe you will be on one of them? If so, you better start training!
Summary of the currently planned Orion missions;
Exploration Mission 1 - Launch 2020 – Unmanned flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and for the Orion spacecraft. Orion is planned to enter lunar orbit and return to Earth.
Exploration Mission 2 - Launch 2022 – Send the Orion capsule, with astronauts aboard, around the Moon and return them safely.
Exploration Mission 3 - 10 – Launching between 2023 and 2030 construction of NASA's Deep Space Gateway to lunar orbit.
Exploration Mission 11 - Launch 2036 – Launch Orion along with the Deep Space Transport module bound for Mars for a 2-year mission.