1st Space-bound Orion Crew Capsule Unveiled at Kennedy

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida welcomes the newly arrived Orion crew capsule at a Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012 and proclaims Mars is NASA’s long term goal for human exploration. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA’s first space-bound Orion crew capsule was officially unveiled at a welcoming ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday (July 2) to initiate a process that the agency hopes will finally put Americans back on a path to exciting destinations of exploration beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years since Apollo and spawn a new era in deep space exploration by humans – starting with an initial uncrewed test flight in 2014.

Over 450 invited guests and dignitaries attended the Orion arrival ceremony at Kennedy’s Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) to mark this watershed moment meant to reignite human exploration of the cosmos.

“This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. “Today we are lifting our spirits to new heights.”

Image caption: Posing in front of NASA’s 1st Orion crew module set for 2014 liftoff are; KSC Director Bob Cabana, Mark Geyer, NASA Orion Program manager, Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator. Credit: Ken Kremer

This Orion capsule is due to lift off on a critical unmanned test flight in 2014 atop a powerful Delta 4 Heavy booster – like the Delta rocket just launched on June 29.

The bare bones, olive green colored aluminum alloy pressure shell arrived at KSC last week from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility where the vessel was assembled and the final welds to shape it into a capsule were just completed. Every space shuttle External Tank was built at Michoud in New Orleans.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has spearheaded the effort in Congress to give NASA the goal and the funding to build the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the means to launch it atop the most powerful rocket ever built – a Saturn V class booster dubbed the SLS or Space Launch System – to destinations in deep space that have never been explored before.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” said Nelson as he stood in front of the incomplete vessel, motioned to the crowd and aimed his sights high. “I know there are a lot of people here who can’t wait to get their hands and their fingers on this hardware.

“And ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to Mars!” proclaimed Nelson.

“Without question, the long-term goal of our space program, human space program right now is the goal of going to Mars in the decade of the 2030s.”

“We still need to refine how we’re going to go there, we’ve got to develop a lot of technologies, we’ve got to figure out how and where we’re going to stop along the way. The president’s goal is an asteroid in 2025. But we know the Orion capsule is a critical part of the system that is going to take us there.”


Image caption: The green colored aluminum alloy pressure vessel arrived at KSC last week and will be outfitted with all the instrumentation required for spaceflight. Launch is slated for 2014 atop Delta 4 Heavy booster from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral. Crew hatch and tunnel visible at center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed.

Over about the next 18 months, engineers and technicians at KSC will install all the systems and gear – such as avionics, instrumentation, flight computers and the heat shield – required to transform this empty shell into a functioning spacecraft.

The 2014 uncrewed flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, will be loaded with a wide variety of instruments to evaluate how the spacecraft behaves during launch, in space and then through the searing heat of reentry.

The 2 orbit flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station. Although the mission will only last a few hours it will be able high enough to send the vehicle plunging back into the atmosphere at over 20.000 MPH to test the craft and its heat shield at deep-space re-entry speeds approaching those of the Apollo moon landing missions.

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida discusses the new arrived Orion capsule with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver while surrounded by a horde of reporters at the Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion arrived at Kennedy on nearly the same day that the center opened its door 50 years ago.

“As KSC celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate than by having the very first Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle here at KSC,” said KSC Center Director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander, at the O & C ceremony.

“The future is here, now, and the vehicle we see here today is not a Powerpoint chart. It’s a real spacecraft, moving toward a test flight in 2014.”

In 2017, an Orion capsule will lift off on the first SLS flight. The first crewed Orion will launch around 2021 and orbit the moon, Lori Garver told me in an interview at KSC.

But the entire schedule and construction of the hardware is fully dependent on funding from the federal government.

In these lean times, there is no guarantee of future funding and NASA’s budget has already been significantly chopped – forcing numerous delays and outright mission cancellations on many NASA projects; including the outright termination of NASA next Mars rover and multi-year delays to the commercial crew program and prior plans to launch a crewed Orion to orbit as early as 2013.

Image caption: Veteran NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim discusses Orion with Universe Today. Walheim flew on the last space shuttle mission (STS-135). Credit: Ken Kremer

Astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew on the final space shuttle mission (STS-135) and has had key role in developing Orion, said the Orion capsule can be the principal spacecraft for the next 30 years of human exploration of the solar system.

“It’s the first in a line of vehicles that can take us where we’ve never gone before,” Walheim said. “It’ll be a building block approach, we’ll have to have a lander and a habitation module, but we can get there.”


Image caption: John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight poses with Orion and discusses the upcoming 2014 EFT-1 test flight with Universe Today. Lockheed is the prime contractor for Orion. Credit: Ken Kremer

“Personally I am thrilled to be working on the next vehicle that will take us beyond low Earth orbit, said John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to build Orion.

“Orion will carry humans to destinations never explored before and change human’s perspectives”

“Folks here are ready to start working on the EFT-1 mission. In about 18 months, EFT-1 will fly on the next Delta 4 Heavy flight.

“I can’t wait to go deeper into the cosmos!” Karas exclaimed.

Ken Kremer

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July 13/14: Free Public Lectures about NASA’s Mars and Planetary Exploration, the Space Shuttle, SpaceX , Orion and more by Ken Kremer at the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake, NY.

NROL-15 Spysat and Delta 4 Heavy – Cape Launch Photo Gallery

Image caption: An upgraded Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

Here’s a launch photo gallery showing the blastoff of the NROL-15 top secret intelligence gathering satellite atop a mighty Delta 4 Heavy booster from colleagues with a variety of perspectives on 29 June 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida

The spy satellite was lofted to orbit by the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy booster for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Sometime in 2014 the first space bound Orion capsule will blastoff atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster.

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

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Jun 29, 2012 Delta 4 Heavy NROL-15 launch photos – Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

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Delta 4 Heavy rocket with top secret spy satellite thunders off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

Ken Kremer

Stupendous ‘Spysat Sunrise’ at the Cape

Image caption: ‘Spysat Sunrise’ and Delta 4 Heavy booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful June 29, 2012 blastoff from Pad 37 at 9:15 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer

Some lucky Florida Space Coast spectators were unexpectedly treated to a glorious “Spysat Sunrise” when the June 29 liftoff of the powerful Delta 4 Heavy booster lofting a super secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was postponed several hours from its originally scheduled predawn launch time.

The sight of the orange and white triple barreled Delta booster and the multi hued sunrise show lasting several minutes was gorgeous beyond compare.

Image caption: ‘Spysat Sunrise’ and Delta 4 Heavy booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful June 29, 2012 blastoff from Pad 37 at 9:15 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer

As a result of the sudden, last minute launch time postponement amidst blistering Florida heat in the middle of mosquito infested waters, some folks got a super “consolation prize” – a magnificent sunrise behind the Delta 4 Heavy rocket launch pad at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

That is for those who were fortunate enough to be unwittingly watching from exactly the right spot at the right time. The photos were shot from about 3 miles away on the NASA Causeway.

Image caption: An upgraded Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The goal of the mission was to deliver the NROL-15 satellite to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to conduct unspecified intelligence gathering operations for US military forces located around the globe.

Read more about the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Spy satellite launch in my mission related articles starting here as well as the prior week’s June 20 NROL-38 NRO spysat launch – here and here.

Ken Kremer

Super Secret Spy Satellite Soars Spectacularly to Space on Delta 4 Heavy Booster

Image caption: An upgraded Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

A super secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) soared spectacularly to space today (June 29) aboard a Delta 4 Heavy Booster – America’s most powerful rocket following the retirement of NASA’s venerable Space Shuttle Orbiters.

Liftoff of the mammoth Delta 4 Heavy rocket – composed of a trio of liquid fueled common core boosters – finally came at 9:15 a.m. EDT about 3 hours late after a variety of technical issues halted the countdown three times at less than 4 minutes from liftoff from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Heavy rains and flooding from Tropical Storm Debby had forced a 1 day launch delay from June 28.

The 232 foot tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta lifted off into a magnificent clear blue sky atop the rumbling thunder of three upgraded boosters strapped together side by side and it gradually arced over to the East on the way to orbit.

Both side attached boosters jettisoned as planned. After the second stage engine ignited and the payload fairing separated, the flight went into a preplanned communications black out for the remainder of the flight to orbit and the entire intelligence mission ahead for the hush, hush NROL-15 satellite.

“Today’s successful launch of the NROL-15 mission is the third of four launches for the NRO this year and the second EELV launch for the NRO in just nine days,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “We congratulate the combined NRO , U.S. Air Force and ULA team along with our mission partners for their continued focus on mission success as we deliver the critical capabilities to support the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”

Just last week on June 20, a ULA Atlas 5 booster lofted the secret NROL-38 satellite for the NRO.

This was only the 6th launch of the Delta 4 Heavy booster and the inaugural flight featuring the upgraded RS-68A Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen first stage engines. Each improved engine delivers some 797,000 pounds of thrust vs 758,000 pounds in the prior version – an increase of 39,000 pounds. A single RL 10 engine powered the second stage.

“The upgraded Delta IV Heavy vehicle was developed with an extremely thorough and comprehensive system engineering process by the ULA and Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne teams, along with substantial involvement by our U.S. government customers,” said Sponnick. “Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful inaugural flight of the upgraded Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle and the RS-68A engine.”

Ken Kremer

Mighty Delta 4 Heavy Rocket and Clandestine Satellite Poised at Pad

Image caption: The Delta 4 Heavy rocket and Super secret payload stand poised for launch at 6:13 a.m. EDT on June 29, 2012 following retraction of the mobile service tower. Credit: Ken Kremer

A mighty triple-barreled Delta 4 Heavy rocket with a clandestine military satellite perhaps the size of Hubble was unveiled this evening (June 28) at a seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 232 foot tall rocket is poised to blast off at 6:13 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The exact launch window, like everything else about the classified mission and the NROL-15 spy satellite is top secret.

The mobile service tower was retracted from around the absolutely gorgeous white and orange colored rocket starting around 8:30 p.m. and the super secret spy satellite being launched for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – see my photos.

The launch was delayed a day by the lingering devastation caused by Tropical Storm Debby.

Image caption: Delta 4 Heavy rocket and top secret NRO payload are poised for launch on June 29. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy is flying for the first time with upgraded RS-68A first stage engines, each of which delivers 720,000 pounds of thrust.

This will be the 6th launch of the Delta 4 Heavy – now the most powerful rocket in the US fleet following the shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

As of 12:45 a.m. June 29 , the countdown is now underway ! Fueling will commence shortly. Stay tuned for a post – launch report

Ken Kremer

Debby Dousing Delta 4 Heavy Launch Hopes for June 28

Image Caption: National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite arrives at Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 37 for mounting on top Delta 4 Heavy Rocket slated for June 28, 2012 blastoff. Credit: United Launch Alliance
See Photo Gallery below

Debby is doing a real number on vast swaths of Florida, dumping up to 15 inches of rain, unleashing deadly tornadoes and dousing hopes of launching a mighty triple barreled Delta IV Heavy rocket on Thursday morning, June 28, with a super secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Tropical Storm Debby has destroyed homes, killed at least 1 person and will wreak havoc as it tracks across central Florida from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast over the next two days – just north of Cape Canaveral, Florida and the Delta 4 Heavy launch pad at Space Launch Complex 37.

The last Delta 4 Heavy to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov 21, 2010. Credit: Alan Walters – awaltersphoto.com

The odds of launching the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 Heavy on June 28 have dropped to just 30 percent favorable. The outlook improves slightly to 40 % favorable on Friday, June 29 according to the official Air Force weather forecast.

The launch window for Thursday’s ULA Delta 4 Heavy launch stretches from 6:16 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and comes just 8 days after the last spy satellite blasted off on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral on June 20 – launch story here.


Image Caption: Fog and heavy rain obscure view of triple barreled Delta 4 Heavy rocket protected inside Mobile Gantry from outside high security perimeter gate at Launch Pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The clandestine NROL-15 payload was bolted atop the Delta 4 Heavy booster several weeks ago.

See the photo gallery below provided to Universe Today showing the shrouded upper stage being hoisted on top of the booster.

This will be only the 6th launch of the 232 foot tall Delta 4 Heavy booster and the first one to feature the upgraded RS-68A first stage engines, delivering 702,000 pounds of thrust each.

A suspect vent relief rocket valve was successfully changed out by technicians over the weekend and will not delay the launch, ULA spokesperson Jessica Rye told Universe Today.

The powerful Delta 4 Heavy rocket and NROL-15 payload are due to be unveiled at pad 37 on Wednesday evening, June 27- depending on Debby !. .

Ken Kremer

Photo Gallery: NROL-15 Spy satellite delivery and mounting atop Delta 4 Heavy Rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Space Launch Complex 37. Credit: United Launch Alliance