NASA Marching Towards Milestone Test Firing of Space Launch System Booster

The first solid rocket booster qualification motor for NASA’s mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is aimed and ready to fire in a major ground test after NASA and ATK finished its installation at a test stand in Utah, and confirms that the pace of SLS development is gaining momentum.

The booster known as qualification motor, QM-1, is the largest solid rocket motor ever built and will be ignited on March 11 for a full duration static fire test by prime contractor ATK at the firms test facility in Promontory, Utah.

The two minute test firing of the full scale booster marks another major milestone in NASA’s ongoing program to assemble and launch the new SLS, which is the most powerful rocket ever built in human history.

Preparations completed for final segment of Space Launch System upcoming booster test set for March 2015. Credit: ATK
Preparations completed for final segment of Space Launch System upcoming booster test set for March 2015. Credit: ATK

The QM-1 booster is being conditioned to 90 degrees and the static fire test will qualify the booster design for high temperature launch conditions. It sits horizontally in the test stand and measures 154 feet in length and 12 feet in diameter and weighs 801 tons.

The five-segment booster will produce 3.6 million pounds of maximum thrust.

The first stage of the SLS will be powered by a pair of the five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines that will generate a combined 8.4 million pounds of liftoff thrust and is designed to propel the Orion crew capsule to deep space destinations, including the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet.

“With RS-25 engine testing underway, and this qualification booster firing coming up, we are taking big steps toward building this rocket and fulfilling NASA’s mission of Mars and beyond,” said SLS Program Manager Todd May.

“This is the most advanced propulsion system ever built and will power this rocket to places we’ve never reached in the history of human spaceflight.”

NASA’s goal is to launch humans to Mars by the 2030s.

The RS-25 engine fires up for a 500-second test Jan. 9, 2015 at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.   Credit: NASA
The RS-25 engine fires up for a 500-second test Jan. 9, 2015 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Credit: NASA

The boosters and RS-25 engines were originally developed for NASA’s space shuttle program and are being modified and enhanced for NASA’s new SLS rocket.

The original shuttle-era boosters were made of four segments.

“Testing before flight is critical to ensure reliability and safety when launching crew into space,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Launch division.

“The QM-1 static test is an important step in further qualifying this new five-segment solid rocket motor for the subsequent planned missions to send astronauts to deep space.”

The static fire test will collect data on 103 design objectives as measured through more than 534 instrumentation channels on the booster as it is firing. It is being preheated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit to measure the boosters performance at high temperatures and confirm it meets all necessary structural and ballistic requirements to launch astronauts.

The test will evaluate motor performance, acoustics, motor vibrations, nozzle modifications, insulation upgrades and avionics command and control performance. The full-scale motor test will further improve the safety, technology and knowledge of solid rocket motors, according to ATK.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The first SLS hot fire test of an RS-25 was successfully completed on Jan. 9 with a 500 second long firing on the A-1 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, as I reported – here.

The SLS core stage is being built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

On Sept. 12, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveiled the world’s largest welder at Michoud, that will be used to construct the core stage, as I reported earlier during my on-site visit – here.

The maiden test flight of the SLS is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds. It will boost an unmanned Orion on an approximately three week long test flight beyond the Moon and back.

NASA plans to gradually upgrade the SLS to achieve an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), enabling the more distant missions even farther into our solar system.

The first SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center.

Orion’s inaugural mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT) was successfully launched on a flawless flight on Dec. 5, 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014 after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014 after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Credit: NASA/MSFC
Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Credit: NASA/MSFC

President Obama Salutes NASA, Astronaut Kelly, and 1 Year ISS Mission at State of the Union Address

President Obama gave a shout out to NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and his upcoming 1 year mission to the International Space Station at the 2015 State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday evening, Jan. 20, 2015.

Obama wished Kelly (pictured above in the blue jacket) good luck during his address and told him to send some photos from the ISS via Instagram. Kelly was seated with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, during the speech on Capitol Hill.

The TV cameras focused on Kelly and he was given a standing ovation by the Congress and the President.

Obama also praised Kelly’s flight and the recent Dec. 5, 2014, launch of NASA’s Orion deep space capsule as “part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.”

Watch this video of President Obama hailing NASA and Scott Kelly:



Video Caption: President Obama recognizes NASA and Astronaut Scott Kelly at 2015 State of the Union Address. Credit: Congress/NASA

Here’s a transcript of President Obama’s words about NASA, Orion, and Scott Kelly’s 1 Year ISS mission:

“Pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars. In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space. Good luck, Captain and make sure to Instagram it.”

In late March, Astronaut Scott Kelly will launch to the International Space Station and become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission.

Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, both veteran spacefliers, comprise the two members of the 1 Year Mission crew.

Normal ISS stays last for about a six month duration.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise  the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew

No American has ever spent anywhere near a year in space. 4 Russian cosmonauts conducted long duration stays of about a year or more in space aboard the Mir Space Station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Together with Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko will launch on a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome as part of Expedition 44.

Kelly and Kornienko will stay aboard the ISS until March 2016.

They will conduct hundreds of science experiments focusing on at least 7 broad areas of investigation including medical, psychological, and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration space flight.

During the 2015 State of the Union Address on Jan 20, President Obama lauds NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and our "re-energized space program."  Credit: NASA
During the 2015 State of the Union Address on Jan 20, President Obama lauds NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and our “re-energized space program.” Credit: NASA

Kelly was just featured in a cover story at Time magazine.

Here’s an online link to the Time magazine story : http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in it’s 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo
@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in its 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

Orion flew a flawless inaugural test flight when it thundered to space on Dec. 5, 2014, atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orion launched on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Kelly’s flight will pave the way for NASA’s goal to send astronaut crews to Mars by the 2030s. They will launch in the Orion crew vehicle atop the agency’s mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, simultaneously under development.

Good luck to Kelly and Kornienko!!

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Busy Year of 13 Launches by ULA in 2015 Begins with Blastoffs for the Navy and NASA

A busy year of 13 space launches by rocket provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) in 2015 begins with a pair of blastoffs for the US Navy and NASA tonight and next week, emanating from both the US East and West Coasts.

The hefty manifest of 13 liftoffs in 2015 comes hot on the heels of ULA’s banner year in 2014 whereby they completed every one of the firm’s 14 planned launches in 2014 with a 100% success rate.

“What ULA has accomplished in 2014, in support of our customers’ missions, is nothing short of remarkable,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

“When you think about every detail – all of the science, all of the planning, all of the resources – that goes into a single launch, it is hard to believe that we successfully did it at a rate of about once a month, sometimes twice.”

ULA’s stable of launchers includes the Delta II, Delta IV and the Atlas V. They are in direct competition with the Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

And ULA’s 2015 launch calendar begins tonight with a milestone launch for the US Navy that also marks the 200th launch overall of the venerable Atlas-Centaur rocket that has a renowned history dating back some 52 years to 1962 with multiple variations.

And tonight’s blastoff of the Multi-User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite for the US Navy involves using the most powerful variant of the rocket, known as the Atlas V 551.

Liftoff of MUOS-3 is set for 7:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends for 44 minutes and the weather outlook is very favorable. It will be carried live on a ULA webcast.

MUOS-3 Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: ULA
MUOS-3 Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: ULA

The second ULA launch of 2015 comes just over 1 week later on January 29, lofting NASA’s SMAP Earth observation satellite on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move, according to ULA.

This is the third satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users 10 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

ULA’s second launch in 2015 thunders aloft from the US West Coast with NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP). It is the first US Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture.

SMAP will blastoff from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on ULA’s Delta II rocket.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) will lift off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.   Credit:  NASA
NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) will lift off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Credit: NASA

“It goes without saying: ULA had a banner year,” Bruno said. “As we look ahead to 2015, we could not be more honored to continue supporting our nation in one of the most technologically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.”

ULA began operations in December 2006 with the merger of the expendable launch vehicle operations of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA’s Delta IV Heavy is currently the world’s most powerful rocket and flawlessly launched NASA’s Orion capsule on Dec. 5, 2014 on its highly successful uncrewed maiden test flight on the EFT-1 mission.

Overall, the 14-mission launch manifest in 2014 included 9 national security space missions, 3 space exploration missions, including NASA’s Orion EFT-1 and 2 commercial missions.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Beyond MUOS-3 and SMAP, the launch manifest on tap for 2015 also includes additional NASA science satellites, an ISS commercial cargo resupply mission as well as more GPS satellites for military and civilian uses and top secret national security launches using the Delta II, Delta IV and the Atlas V boosters.

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) to study Earth’s magnetic reconnection is scheduled for launch on an Atlas V 421 booster on March 12 from Cape Canaveral. See my up close visit with MMS and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center detailed in my story – here.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

In March, June and September the GPS 2F-9, 2F-10 and 2F-11 navigation satellites will launch on Delta IV and Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral.

Two top secret NRO satellites are set to launch on a Delta IV and Atlas in April and August from Vandenberg.

An Air Force Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) space plane may launch as soon as May atop an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral.

The MUOS-4 liftoff is set for August on another Atlas from the Cape.

The Morelos 3 communications satellite for the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation is due to launch in October from the Cape.

In November, the Atlas V will be pressed into service for the first time to launch the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-4 cargo vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) as a replacement rocket for the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket which is grounded following its catastrophic Oct. 28 explosion on the Orb-3 mission from NASA Wallops.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9, 2014. The next Cygnus Orb-4 will launch for the first time atop an Atlas V in Nov. 2015. Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Orb-4 launch also marks ULA’s first launch to the ISS. It may be followed by another Cygnus launch atop an Atlas V in 2016 as Orbital works to bring the Antares back into service.

Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

In another major milestone down the road, the Atlas V is being man rated since it was chosen to launch the Boeing CST-100 space taxi which NASA selected as one of two new commercial crew vehicles to launch US astronauts to the ISS as soon as 2017.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

First SLS Engine Blazes to Life in Mississippi Test Firing Igniting NASA’s Path to Deep Space

NASA’s goal of sending astronauts to deep space took a major step forward when the first engine of the type destined to power the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) exploration rocket blazed to life during a successful test firing at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

The milestone hot fire test conducted on Jan. 9, involved igniting a shuttle-era RS-25 space shuttle main engine for 500 seconds on the A-1 test stand at Stennis.

A quartet of RS-25s, formerly used to power the space shuttle orbiters, will now power the core stage of the SLS which will be the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen.

“The RS-25 is the most efficient engine of its type in the world,” said Steve Wofford, manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed. “It’s got a remarkable history of success and a great experience base that make it a great choice for NASA’s next era of exploration.”

The SLS is NASA’s mammoth heavy lift rocket now under development. It is intended to launch the Orion deep space crew capsule and propel astronauts aboard to destinations far beyond Earth and farther into space than ever before possible – beyond the Moon, to Asteroids and Mars.

The over eight minute RS-25 engine test firing provided NASA engineers with critical data on the engine controller unit, which is the “brain” of the engine providing communications between the engine and the vehice, and inlet pressure conditions.

“The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine’s health and status. The new controller will use updated hardware and software configured to operate with the new SLS avionics architecture,” according to NASA.

This also marked the first test of a shuttle-era RS-25 since the conclusion of space shuttle main engine testing in 2009.

For the SLS, the RS-25 will be configured and operated differently from their use when attached as a trio to the base of the orbiters during NASA’s four decade long Space Shuttle era that ended with the STS-135 mission in July 2011.

“We’ve made modifications to the RS-25 to meet SLS specifications and will analyze and test a variety of conditions during the hot fire series,” said Wofford

“The engines for SLS will encounter colder liquid oxygen temperatures than shuttle; greater inlet pressure due to the taller core stage liquid oxygen tank and higher vehicle acceleration; and more nozzle heating due to the four-engine configuration and their position in-plane with the SLS booster exhaust nozzles.”

Watch this video of the RS-25 engine test:

Video Caption: The RS-25 engine that will drive NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, to deep space blazed through its first successful test Jan. 9 at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Credit: NASA TV

The SLS core stage stores the cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that fuel the RS-25 first stage engines.

“This first hot-fire test of the RS-25 engine represents a significant effort on behalf of Stennis Space Center’s A-1 test team,” said Ronald Rigney, RS-25 project manager at Stennis.

“Our technicians and engineers have been working diligently to design, modify and activate an extremely complex and capable facility in support of RS-25 engine testing.”

The Jan. 9 engine test was just the first of an extensive series planned. After an upgrade to the high pressure cooling system, an initial series of eight development tests will begin in April 2015 totaling 3,500 seconds of firing time.

A close-up view  of the RS-25 engine  from the test stand.  Credit: NASA
A close-up view of the RS-25 engine from the test stand. Credit: NASA

The SLS core stage is being built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

On Sept. 12, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveiled the world’s largest welder at Michoud, that will be used to construct the core stage, as I reported earlier during my on-site visit.

“This rocket is a game changer in terms of deep space exploration and will launch NASA astronauts to investigate asteroids and explore the surface of Mars while opening new possibilities for science missions, as well,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Michoud.

The core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall and sports a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m).

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace

The maiden test flight of the SLS is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds. It will boost an unmanned Orion on an approximately three week long test flight beyond the Moon and back.

NASA plans to gradually upgrade the SLS to achieve an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), enabling the more distant missions even farther into our solar system.

The first SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center.

Orion’s inaugural mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT) was successfully launched on a flawless flight on Dec. 5, 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

STS-135: Last launch using RS-25 engines that will now power NASA’s SLS deep space exploration rocket. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Video Shows Astronaut’s-Eye View of “Trial by Fire” from Inside Orion EFT-1 on First Test Flight

Video Caption: New video recorded during NASA’s Orion return through Earth’s atmosphere provides viewers a taste of what the vehicle endured as it returned through Earth’s atmosphere during its Dec. 5 flight test. Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Newly released NASA footage recorded during the first test flight of NASA’s Orion crew capsule this month gives an astronaut’s-eye view of what it would have been like for a crew riding along on the “Trial by Fire” as the vehicle began the fiery reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere and suffered scorching temperatures during the approximately ten minute plummet homewards and parachute assisted splashdown.

“The video provides a taste of the intense conditions the spacecraft and the astronauts it carries will endure when they return from deep space destinations on the journey to Mars,” NASA said in a statement.

The video was among the first data to be removed from Orion following its unpiloted Dec. 5 flight test and was recorded through windows in Orion’s crew module.

The Orion deep space test capsule reached an altitude of 3604 miles and the video starts with a view of the Earth’s curvature far different from what we’ve grown accustomed to from Space Shuttle flight and the International Space Station (ISS).

Then it transitions to the fiery atmospheric entry and effects from the superheated plasma, the continued descent, gorgeous series of parachute openings, and concludes with the dramatic splashdown.

Although parts of the video were transmitted back in real time and shown live on NASA TV, this is the first time that the complete video is available so that “the public can have an up-close look at the extreme environment a spacecraft experiences as it travels back through Earth’s environment from beyond low-Earth orbit.”

A portion of the video could not be sent back live because of the communications blackout that always occurs during reentry when the superheated plasma surrounds the vehicle as it endures peak heating up to 4000 F (2200 C) and prevents data downlink. Video footage “shows the plasma created by the interaction change from white to yellow to lavender to magenta as the temperature increases.”

The on-board cameras continued to operate all the way through the 10 minute reentry period to unfurling of the drogue and three main parachutes and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST at about 20 mph.

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered from the Pacific by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and safely towed into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage.

The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy
The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy

It was brought to shore and off-loaded from the USS Anchorage at US Naval Base San Diego.

Orion was then hauled 2700 miles across the US from California on a flat bed truck for her homecoming arrival back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19 just prior to the Christmas holidays.

Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014 after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014, after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion’s inaugural test flight began with the flawless Dec. 5 launch as it soared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

EFT-1 tested the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, environmental controls and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft, heat shield, thermal protection tiles, and ocean recovery operations.

NASA intends that the EFT-1 test flight starts the agency on the long awaited road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

View of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
View of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s First Orion Crew Module Arrives Safely Back at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a history making journey of more than 66,000 miles through space, ocean splash down and over 2700 mile cross country journey through the back woods of America, NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule has returned to its home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The Orion mission was a spectacular success,” said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, during a homecoming event attended by space journalists including Universe Today on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.

“We achieved 85 of 87 test objectives,” noted Schneider. “Only an up righting air bag did not deploy fully after splashdown. And we are looking into that. Otherwise the mission went extremely well.”

Orion’s early homecoming was unexpected and a pleasant surprise since it hadn’t been expected until next week just prior to Christmas.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that started NASA’s long road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

The media were able to see the entire Orion capsule from top to bottom, including the exposed, blackened and heat scorched heat shield which had to protect the vehicle from fiery reentry temperatures exceeding 4000 F (2200 C).

 Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is being stored for now inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF)

“The heat shield worked extremely well and did its job,” Schneider told Universe Today.

Engineers took three samples from the 16.5 foot diameter heat shield and they are in for analysis.

“I don’t know if you can tell, we’ve actually taken a few core samples off the heat shield already and we’re looking at those,” said Schneider. “We will be removing the heat shield from this vehicle later in February so we will get an ever better look at it.”

One of the main objectives was to test the heat shield during the high speed atmospheric plummet of about 20000 mph (32000 kph) that reached approximately 85% of what astronauts will experience during a return from future voyages to Mars and Asteroids in the next decade and beyond.

“All of Orion’s system performed very well,” Schneider told me in an interview beside Orion.

“And the capsule used only about 90 pounds of its about 300 pounds of hydrazine propellant stored on board.”

“All of the separation events went beautifully and basically required virtually no maneuvering fuel to control the attitude of the capsule. The expected usage was perhaps about 150 pounds.”

“Therefore there is a lot more hydrazine fuel on board than we expected. And we had to be cautious in transporting Orion across the country.”

Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the Orion prime contractor.

The Orion arrived module arrived back at KSC, Thursday afternoon after being hauled across our country mostly on back country roads, and with no publicity or fanfare, on an unmarked flat bed truck to minimize interaction with the public.

“It was like a black ops operation,” said one of the team members responsible to safely transporting Orion from Naval Base San Diego to KSC.

NASA obtained special permits to move Orion from all the states travelled between California and Florida.

“We didn’t want any publicity because the capsule was still loaded with residual toxic chemicals like ammonia and hydrazine.” These were used to power and fuel the capsule.”

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Watch for more details and photos later.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Amazing Up Close Videos Capture Orion’s Final Descent, Splashdown and Ocean Recovery

Video Caption: Last moments of Orion descent as viewed from the recovery ship USS Anchorage. Credit: NASA/US Navy

Relive the final moments of the first test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5, 2014, through this amazing series of up close videos showing the spacecraft plummeting back to Earth through the rollicking ocean recovery by dive teams from the US Navy and the USS Anchorage amphibious ship.

The two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission was a complete success.

It was brought back to land to the US Naval Base San Diego, California.

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Video Caption: NASA TV covers the final moments of Orion spacecraft descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean approximately 600 miles southwest of San Diego on Dec. 5, 2014, as viewed live from the Ikhana airborne drone. Credit: NASA TV

The spacecraft was loaded with over 1200 sensors to collect critical performance data from numerous systems throughout the mission for evaluation by engineers.

EFT-1 tested the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, environmental controls, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft and ocean recovery operations.

It also tested the effects of intense radiation by traveling twice through the Van Allen radiation belt.

After successfully accomplishing all its orbital flight test objectives, the capsule fired its thrusters and began the rapid fire 10 minute plummet back to Earth.

During the high speed atmospheric reentry, it approached speeds of 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.

The capsule endured scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical and successful test of the 16.5-foot-wide heat shield and thermal protection tiles.

The entire system of reentry hardware, commands, and 11 drogue and main parachutes performed flawlessly.

Finally, Orion descended on a trio of massive red and white main parachutes to achieve a statistical bulls-eye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego, at 11:29 a.m. EST.

It splashed down within one mile of the touchdown spot predicted by mission controllers after returning from an altitude of over 3600 miles above Earth.

The three main parachutes slowed Orion to about 17 mph (27 kph).

Here’s a magnificent up close and personal view direct from the US Navy teams that recovered Orion on Dec. 5, 2014.

Video Caption: Just released footage of the Orion Spacecraft landing and recovery! See all the sights and sounds, gurgling, and more from onboard the Zodiac boats with the dive teams on Dec. 5, 2014. See the initial recovery operations, including safing the crew module and towing it into the well deck of the USS Anchorage, a landing platform-dock ship. Credit: US Navy

Navy teams in Zodiac boats had attached a collar and winch line to Orion at sea and then safely towed it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage and positioned it over rubber “speed bumps.”

Next they secured Orion inside its recovery cradle and transported it back to US Naval Base San Diego where it was off-loaded from the USS Anchorage.

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Orion has been offloaded from the USS Anchorage and moved about a mile to the “Mole Pier” where Lockheed Martin technicians have conducted the first test inspection of the crew module and collected test data.

It will soon be hauled on a flatbed truck across the US for a nearly two week trip back to Kennedy where it will arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden briefs the media about the ‘Big Deal’ goals of the first Orion deep space crew module during prelaunch meeting backdropped by Orion and Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch on Dec. 5, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden briefs the media about the “Big Deal” goals of the first Orion deep space crew module during prelaunch meeting backdropped by Orion and Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Technicians at KSC will examine every nook and cranny of Orion and will dissemble it for up close inspection and lessons learned.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Prelaunch night view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft bolted atop triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Prelaunch night view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft bolted atop triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion Off-Loaded for Cross Country Trek to Florida Home Base

After a brilliant first test flight, and historic Pacific Ocean splashdown and recovery on Dec. 5, 2014, NASA’s Orion spacecraft was brought onshore inside the USS Anchorage to the US Naval Base San Diego and has now been offloaded for the cross country trek back her home base in Florida.

Orion was off-loaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage Monday night after the amphibious ship docked in San Diego.

NASA officials pronounced the two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission to be a complete success.

The EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered at sea, brought to land, and off-loaded by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

NASA's Orion spacecraft is being offloaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego in California  and has been secured in its crew module recovery cradle to prepare for return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit:  NASA/Amber Philman
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is being offloaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego in California and has been secured in its crew module recovery cradle to prepare for return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Amber Philman

Years of planning, rehearsals, and hard work on land, in the air, and at sea paid off handsomely for the Orion Recovery Team, led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO) based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The recovery of Orion was flawless,” said Jeremy Graeber, NASA recovery director. “We wanted to be patient, take our time. We didn’t rush.”

Navy teams in Zodiac boats had attached a collar and winch line to Orion at sea and then safely towed it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage and positioned it over rubber “speed bumps.”

Next they secured Orion inside its recovery cradle and transported it back to US Naval Base San Diego where it was off-loaded from the USS Anchorage.

Orion has now been moved about a mile to the “Mole Pier” where Lockheed Martin has conducted the first test inspection of the crew module and collected test data.

The Orion crew module is being moved into a covered structure at the Mole Pier at Naval Base San Diego in California where it will be prepared for return to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion was secured on its crew module recovery cradle in the well deck of the USS Anchorage after it was recovered from the Pacific Ocean.   Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
The Orion crew module is being moved into a covered structure at the Mole Pier at Naval Base San Diego in California where it will be prepared for return to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion was secured on its crew module recovery cradle in the well deck of the USS Anchorage after it was recovered from the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Next, it was placed into the crew module transportation fixture with a rigorous environmental control system and generator to ensure the crew module’s safety during transport.

Orion will be hauled on a flatbed truck across the US for a nearly two-week trip back to Kennedy where it will arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays.

Technicians at KSC will examine every nook and cranny of Orion, and will disassemble it for up close inspection and lessons learned.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Bringing You There: Intense Sound of Delta IV Heavy Orion EFT-1 Launch

Have you ever wondered what 51 million horsepower sounds like from 3 miles away? This past Friday, a Delta IV Heavy launched Orion spacecraft on the EFT-1 Test flight. The rocket weighed 1.6 million pounds at liftoff, produced close to 2 million pounds of thrust and consumed propellants at a rate of about 3 tons per second. Videographers David Gonzales and Kyle Johnson shot this film using 2 video cameras and a dedicated stereo high quality recorder to capture the ascent and thunder for Universe Today.

As the Delta IV Heavy ascended, the hydrogen and oxygen fuel combined to form water vapor which condensed into a cloud that evolved and took shape after liftoff.

NASA’s First Orion Back on Land after Flawless Ocean Recovery

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following a picture perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014, flawless test flight, and safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, NASA’s first Orion spacecraft has been recovered from the ocean and brought back onshore in California.

Near the conclusion of its two orbit, 4.5 hour maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission, the capsule fired its thrusters and began the rapid fire 10 minute plummet back to Earth.

During the high speed re-entry through the atmosphere, Orion reached speeds approaching 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), or approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.

The capsule endured scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical and successful test of the 16.5-foot-wide heat shield and thermal protection tiles.

The entire system of reentry hardware, commands, and parachutes performed flawlessly.

The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy
The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy

Finally, Orion descended on a trio of massive red and white main parachutes to achieve a statistical bulls-eye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego, at 11:29 a.m. EST that was within one mile of the touchdown spot predicted by mission controllers after returning from an altitude of over 3600 miles above Earth.

The main parachutes slowed Orion to about 17 mph (27 kph).

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Following a perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014 and more than four hours in Earth's orbit, NASA's Orion spacecraft is seen from an unpiloted aircraft descending under three massive red and white main parachutes and then shortly after its bullseye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego. Credit: NASA
Following a perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014, and more than four hours in Earth’s orbit, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is seen from an unpiloted aircraft descending under three massive red and white main parachutes, and then shortly after its bullseye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego. Credit: NASA

The only minor glitch was the failure of one of the three crew module uprighting bags to inflate. Nevertheless the capsule was in an upright position in the ocean waters.

Navy teams in Zodiac boats with divers approached the Orion after it had cooled down, hooked a sea anchor and tether lines onto the outside and maneuvered it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage.

Once safely inside, Orion was placed inside its recovery cradle for transport back to a pier at US Naval Base San Diego.

An MH-60 helicopter flies over the Orion as recovery teams move in to retrieve the spacecraft. Credit: U.S. Navy
An MH-60 helicopter flies over the Orion as recovery teams move in to retrieve the spacecraft. Credit: U.S. Navy

The capsule will be hauled back to its launch site at the Kennedy Space Center, likely by Christmas, Larry Price, Lockheed Martin Deputy Orion Program Manager told me.

At KSC it will be refurbished and launched again on a high altitude abort test in 2018 to test the launch abort system.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com