Mars Era Opens with Spectacular Blastoff of NASA’s New Orion Crew Spacecraft

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The long road to NASA’s “Mars Era” opened with the thunderous on-time blastoff today, Dec. 5, of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft.

Orion took flight atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“It’s the dawn of Orion and a new era in space exploration,” said NASA launch commentator Mike Curie as the Delta rocket roared to life.

Orion’s Delta rocket lit the sky on fire and soared to space on the world’s most powerful rocket.

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. 4, 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

Jubilation broke out in Mission Control as Orion slowly ascended from the pad.

“It’s a great day for America,” said NASA Flight Director Mike Sarafin.

Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This story is being updated directly from the Kennedy Space Center. Further details in follow up features.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he is onsite at KSC during launch week for the historic launch on Dec. 5.

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft and Delta 4 Heavy Booster unveiled at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch set for Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft and Delta 4 Heavy Booster unveiled 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

Moon Over Orion Heralds Start of NASA’s Human Road to Mars

The moon appears above NASA's Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in the Kennedy Space Center area as its set to soar to space atop a Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida ahead of launch set for Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – This week’s appearance of the Moon over the Kennedy Space Center marks the perfect backdrop heralding the start of NASA’s determined push to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s via the agency’s new Orion crew capsule set to soar to space on its maiden test flight in less than two days.

Orion is the first human rated vehicle that can carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit on voyages to deep space in more than 40 years.

Top managers from NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and Lockheed Martin met on Tuesday, Dec. 2, and gave the “GO” to proceed toward launch after a thorough review of all systems related to the Orion capsule, rocket, and ground operation systems at the launch pad at the Launch Readiness Review (LRR), said Mark Geyer at a NASA media briefing on Dec. 2.

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers.  Note former shuttle launch pad 39A in the background above clock.   Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch slated for Dec. 4, 2014. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers. Note former shuttle launch pad 39A in the background above clock. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is slated to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

America’s astronauts flying aboard Orion will venture farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System starting around 2020 or 2021 on Orion’s first crewed flight atop NASA’s new monster rocket – the SLS – concurrently under development.

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 current weather forecast states the launch is 60 percent “GO” for favorable weather condition at the scheduled liftoff time of at 7:05 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2014.

The launch window extends for 2 hours and 39 minutes.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

EFT-1 will test the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms, as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.

Orion atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster.   Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Orion atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Then the spacecraft will carry out a high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA TV will provide several hours of live Orion EFT-1 launch coverage with the new countdown clock – starting at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

Orion’s move to Launch Complex-37. Credit: Mike Killian
Orion’s move to Launch Complex-37. Credit: Mike Killian

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

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

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions, and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 1-5: “Orion EFT-1, SpaceX CRS-5, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion’s Rocket Ready to Rock n’ Roll for Critical December Test Flight

Launch teams practice countdown and fueling tests on the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will lift NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its unmanned flight test in December 2014. Credit: NASA

The huge rocket that will blast NASA’s first Orion spacecraft into orbit is ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll on a critical two orbit test flight scheduled for December.

And Orion is so big and heavy that she’s not launching on just any old standard rocket.

To blast the uncrewed Orion to orbit on its maiden mission requires the most powerful booster on Planet Earth – namely the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission is slated for December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Just days ago, the launch team successfully completed a countdown and wet dress rehearsal fueling test on the rocket itself – minus Orion – at launch complex 37.

The high fidelity rehearsal included fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with cryogenic fuel and oxidizer,  liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen
The high fidelity rehearsal included fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with cryogenic fuel and oxidizer, liquid oxygen, and liquid hydrogen

The high fidelity rehearsal included fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with cryogenic fuel and oxidizer, liquid oxygen, and liquid hydrogen.

ULA technicians and engineers practiced the countdown on Nov. 5 which included fueling the core stages of the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

“Working in control rooms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, countdown operators followed the same steps they will take on launch day. The simulation also allowed controllers to evaluate the fuel loading and draining systems on the complex rocket before the Orion spacecraft is placed atop the launcher,” said NASA.

The next key mission milestone is attachment of the completed Orion vehicle stack on top of the rocket. Read more about the fully assembled Orion – here.

Today’s scheduled rollout of Orion to the launch pad for hoisting atop the rocket was scrubbed due to poor weather.

The Orion spacecraft sits inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Ogive panels have been installed around the launch abort system.  Credit: NASA/Jim Grossman
The Orion spacecraft sits inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Ogive panels have been installed around the launch abort system. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy booster became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011 and is the only rocket sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first stage of the mammoth Delta IV Heavy generates some 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

“The team has worked extremely hard to ensure this vehicle is processed with the utmost attention to detail and focus on mission success,” according to Tony Taliancich, ULA’s director of East Coast Launch Operations.

“The Delta IV Heavy is the world’s most powerful launch vehicle flying today, and we are excited to be supporting our customer for this critical flight test to collect data and reduce overall mission risks and costs for the program.”

From now until launch technicians will continue to conduct the final processing, testing, and checkout of the Delta IV Heavy booster.

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Delta IV Heavy first stage is comprised of a trio of three Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August.

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This fall I visited the ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) during a media tour after the three CBCs had been joined together as well as earlier this year after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville. See my photos herein.

 Orion in orbit in this artists concept.  Credit: NASA

Orion in orbit in this artist’s concept. Credit: NASA

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

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“The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA. We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what’s expected by [astronauts] returning from Mars.”

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing, and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean.”

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Assembly Complete for NASA’s Maiden Orion Spacecraft Launching in December 2014

Technicians complete final assembly of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft with installation of the close out panels on the Launch Abort System that smooth airflow. Credit: Photo credit: Kim Shiflett

Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center have completed the final major assembly work on NASA’s maiden Orion crew module slated to launch on its first unmanned orbital test flight this December, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1)

After first attaching the Launch Abort System (LAS) to the top of the capsule, engineers carefully installed a fairing composed of a set of four ogive panels over the crew module and the abort systems lower structural framework joining them together.

“The ogive panels smooth the airflow over the conical spacecraft to limit sound and vibration, which will make for a much smoother ride for the astronauts who will ride inside Orion in the future,” according to a NASA description.

Upon finishing the panel assembly work inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the teams cleared the last major hurdle before the Orion stack is rolled out to launch pad 37 in mid-November and hoisted to the top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Technicians complete final assembly of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft with installation of the  last ogive close out panels on the Launch Abort System that smooth airflow. Credit: Photo credit: Kim Shiflett
Technicians complete final assembly of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft with installation of the last ogive close out panels on the Launch Abort System that smooth airflow. Photo credit: Kim Shiflett

The Orion stack is comprised of the LAS, crew module (CM) and service module (SM).

The maiden blastoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on the EFT-1 mission is slated for December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop the triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy booster.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight around Earth 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years. It will test the avionics and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.

Then the spacecraft will travel back through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion EFT-1 on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion EFT-1 on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LAS plays a critically important role to ensure crew safety.

In case of an emergency situation, the LAS is designed to ignite within milliseconds to rapidly propel the astronauts inside the crew module away from the rocket and save the astronauts’ lives. The quartet of LAS abort motors would generate some 500,000 pounds of thrust to pull the capsule away from the rocket.

And don’t forget that you can fly your name on Orion and also print out an elegant looking “boarding pass.”

Details below and in my article – here.

NASA announced that the public can submit their names for inclusion on a dime-sized microchip that will travel on Orion and succeeding spacecraft voyaging to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

The deadline to submit your name is soon: Oct 31, 2014.

Click on this weblink posted online by NASA today: http://go.usa.gov/vcpz

NASA invites you to send your name to Mars via the first Orion test flight in December 2014.  Deadline for submissions is Oct 31, 2014. Join over 170,000 others! See link below. Credit: NASA
NASA invites you to send your name to Mars via the first Orion test flight in December 2014. Deadline for submissions is Oct 31, 2014. Join over 170,000 others! See link below. Credit: NASA

“NASA is pushing the boundaries of exploration and working hard to send people to Mars in the future,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager, in a NASA statement.

“When we set foot on the Red Planet, we’ll be exploring for all of humanity. Flying these names will enable people to be part of our journey.”

NASA’s Orion Program manager Mark Geyer discusses Orion EFT-1 mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Orion Program manager Mark Geyer discusses Orion EFT-1 mission, while holding a model of the Launch Abort System. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

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Learn more about Orion, Space Taxis, and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 26/27: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

ULA Delta IV Heavy Rocket Rolled to Cape Launch Pad and Raised for Orion’s First Flight

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The march towards first launch of NASA’s next generation Orion crew vehicle is accelerating rapidly.

The world’s most powerful rocket – the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy – was moved to its Cape Canaveral launch pad overnight and raised at the pad today, Oct. 1, thereby setting in motion the final steps to prepare for blastoff of NASA’s new Orion capsule on its first test flight in just over two months.

All the pieces are ready and now it’s just a matter of attaching all those components together for the inaugural uncrewed liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on its maiden mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December.

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” said Kennedy Director Bob Cabana, in a NASA statement.

Orion is almost complete and the rocket that will send it into space is on the launch pad. We’re 64 days away from taking the next step in deep space exploration.”

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy topped by the Orion EFT-1 capsule is slated to blastoff on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket  launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

After a nearly two day delay due to drenching rain storms, the Delta IV Heavy integrated first and second stages were transported horizontally overnight Wednesday starting around 10 p.m. from the processing hanger inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to the nearby launch complex and servicing gantry at Pad 37.

Early this morning, the rocket was hoisted up into its launch configuration. Several of my space photo-journalist colleagues were on hand. See their photos herein.

From now until launch technicians will conduct the final processing, testing and checkout of the Delta IV Heavy booster. They will also carry out “a high fidelity rehearsal to include fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with fuel and oxidizer,” according to ULA.

“This is a tremendous milestone and gets us one step closer to our launch later this year,” said Tony Taliancich, ULA’s director of East Coast Launch Operations, in a ULA statement.

“The team has worked extremely hard to ensure this vehicle is processed with the utmost attention to detail and focus on mission success.”

“The Delta IV Heavy is the world’s most powerful launch vehicle flying today, and we are excited to be supporting our customer for this critical flight test to collect data and reduce overall mission risks and costs for the program,” said Taliancich.

ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space

NASA’s Orion Program manager Mark Geyer told me in a recent interview that the Orion spacecraft, built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, will be transported to the pad around November 10 or 11. Then the Orion will be hoisted and attached to the top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at the base of its service module.

The Delta IV Heavy first stage is comprised of a trio of three Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

The Delta IV Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and is the only vehicle that is sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August.

Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News
Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

I recently visited the HIF during a media tour after the three CBCs had been joined together as well as earlier this year after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville. See my photos herein.

I was also on hand at KSC when the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack was rolled out on Sept. 11, 2014, on a 36 wheeled transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

It was moved about 1 mile to the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story – here.

Fueling of Orion was completed over the weekend and it has now been moved to the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) for the installation of its last component – the Launch Abort System (LAS).

Orion’s next stop is SLC-37.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

NASA is simultaneously developing a monster heavy lift rocket known as the Space Launch System or SLS, that will eventually launch Orion on its deep space missions.

The maiden SLS/Orion launch on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) unmanned test flight is now scheduled for no later than November 2018 – read my story here.

SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built and the assembly of its core stage has begun at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Read my story – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B this morning. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Assembly Complete for NASA’s First Orion Crew Module Blasting off Dec. 2014

NASA’s first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014. The crew and service module will be transferred soon to another facility for fueling. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

This past weekend technicians completed assembly of NASA’s first Orion crew module at the agency’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O & C) Facility at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, signifying a major milestone in the vehicles transition from fabrication to full scale launch operations.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle and is scheduled to launch on its maiden uncrewed mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December 2014. It replaces the now retired space shuttle orbiters.

The black Orion crew module (CM) sits stacked atop the white service module (SM) in the O & C high bay photos, shown above and below.

The black area is comprised of the thermal insulating back shell tiles. The back shell and heat shield protect the capsule from the scorching heat of re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at excruciating temperatures reaching over 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) – detailed in my story here.

Technicians and engineers from prime contractor Lockheed Martin subsequently covered the crew module with protective foil. The CM/SM stack was then lifted and moved for the installation of the Orion-to-stage adapter ring that will mate them to the booster rocket.

Lifting and stacking NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014.   Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
Lifting and stacking NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and hits the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

The next step in Orion’s multi stage journey to the launch pad follows later this week with transport of the CM/SM stack to another KSC facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) for fueling, before moving again for the installation of the launch abort system (LAS) in yet another KSC facility.

Stacking NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014.   Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
Stacking NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

The Orion EFT-1 test flight is slated to soar to space atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Dec. 4, 2014 .

The state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft will carry America’s astronauts on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules being moved inside the High Bay at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014.   Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
NASA’s first completed Orion crew and service modules being moved inside the High Bay at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early September 2014. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

NASA is simultaneously developing a monster heavy lift rocket known as the Space Launch System or SLS, that will eventually launch Orion on its deep space missions.

The maiden SLS/Orion launch on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) unmanned test flight is now scheduled for no later than November 2018 – read my story here.

SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center - now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center – now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The EFT-1 mission will test the systems critical for EM-1 and future human missions to deep space that follow.

The Orion EFT-1 capsule has come a long way over the past two years of assembly.

The bare bones, welded shell structure of the Orion crew cabin arrived at KSC in Florida from NASA’s Michoud facility in New Orleans in June 2012 and was officially unveiled at a KSC welcoming ceremony on 2 July 2012, attended by this author.

“Everyone is very excited to be working on the Orion. We have a lot of work to do. It’s a marathon not a sprint to build and test the vehicle,” said Jules Schneider, Orion Project manager for Lockheed Martin at KSC, during an exclusive 2012 interview with Universe Today inside the Orion clean room at KSC.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Service module at bottom.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orion EFT-1 capsule under construction inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Jules Schneider, Orion Project Manager for Lockheed Martin and Ken Kremer, Universe Today.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion EFT-1 capsule under construction inside the Structural Assembly Jig at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Jules Schneider, Orion Project Manager for Lockheed Martin and Ken Kremer, Universe Today. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

US Heavy Lift Mars Rocket Passes Key Review and NASA Sets 2018 Maiden Launch Date

Looking to the future of space exploration, NASA and TopCoder have launched the "High Performance Fast Computing Challenge" to improve the performance of their Pleiades supercomputer. 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
Story updated[/caption]

After a thorough review of cost and engineering issues, NASA managers formally approved the development of the agency’s mammoth heavy lift rocket – the Space Launch System or SLS – which will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built and is intended to take astronauts farther beyond Earth into deep space than ever before possible – to Asteroids and Mars.

The maiden test launch of the SLS is targeted for November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version, top NASA officials announced at a briefing for reporters on Aug. 27.

On its first flight known as EM-1, the SLS will also loft an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on an approximately three week long test flight taking it beyond the Moon to a distant retrograde orbit, said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, at the briefing.

Previously NASA had been targeting Dec. 2017 for the inaugural launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – a slip of nearly one year.

But the new Nov. 2018 target date is what resulted from the rigorous assessment of the technical, cost and scheduling issues.

This artist concept shows NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rolling to a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center at night. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history, and the flexible, evolvable design of this advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle will meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs.   Credit:  NASA/MSFC
This artist concept shows NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rolling to a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center at night. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history, and the flexible, evolvable design of this advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle will meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs. Credit: NASA/MSFC

The decision to move forward with the SLS comes after a wide ranging review of the technical risks, costs, schedules and timing known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, at the briefing. Lightfoot oversaw the review process.

“After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment,” said Lightfoot. “Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program.”

“We are making excellent progress on SLS designed for missions beyond low Earth orbit,” Lightfoot said. “We owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right.”

He said that the development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS was $7.021 billion starting from February 2014 and continuing through the first launch set for no later than November 2018.

Lightfoot emphasized that NASA is also building an evolvable family of vehicles that will increase the lift to an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will eventually enable the deep space human missions farther out than ever before into our solar system, leading one day to Mars.

“It’s also important to remember that we’re building a series of launch vehicles here, not just one,” Lightfoot said.

Blastoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.   Credit: NASA/MSFC
Blastoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: NASA/MSFC

Lightfoot and Gerstenmaier both indicated that NASA hopes to launch sooner, perhaps by early 2018.

“We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018,” said Lightfoot.

The next step is conduct the same type of formal KDP-C reviews for the Orion crew vehicle and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs.

The first piece of SLS flight hardware already built and to be tested in flight is the stage adapter that will fly on the maiden launch of Orion this December atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy booster during the EFT-1 mission.

The initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version of the SLS stands 322 feet tall and provides 8.4 million pounds of thrust. That’s already 10 percent more thrust at launch than the Saturn V rocket that launched NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions, including Apollo 11, and it can carry more than three times the payload of the now retired space shuttle orbiters.

The core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m) and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.

The first stage propulsion is powered by four RS-25 space shuttle main engines and a pair of enhanced five segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) also derived from the shuttles four segment boosters.

The pressure vessels for the Orion crew capsule, including EM-1 and EFT-1, are also being manufactured at MAF. And all of the External Tanks for the space shuttles were also fabricated at MAF.

The airframe structure for the first Dream Chaser astronaut taxi to low Earth orbit is likewise under construction at MAF as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.

The first crewed flight of the SLS is set for the second launch on the EM-2 mission around the 2020/2021 time frame, which may visit a captured near Earth asteroid.

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

Ken Kremer

Engineers Start Stacking Operations for Maiden Launch of NASA’s Orion Deep Space Test Capsule

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
Story updated[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL- Engineers have begun stacking operations for NASA’s maiden Orion deep space test capsule at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) achieving a major milestone leading to its first blastoff from the Florida Space Coast less than six months from today.

The excitement is mounting as final assembly of NASA’s Orion crew vehicle into its launch configuration started on Monday, June 9, inside the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Facility at Kennedy.

Orion will eventually carry humans to destinations far beyond low Earth orbit on new voyages of scientific discovery in our solar system.

“Orion is the next step in our journey of exploration,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot at a recent KSC media briefing.

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars. The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA.”

Orion is slated to launch on its inaugural unmanned test flight in December 2014 atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The main elements of the Orion spacecraft stack include the crew module (CM), service module (SM) and the launch abort system (LAS).

On Monday, technicians from Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin began aligning and stacking the crew module on top of the already completed service module in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell in the O & C facility at KSC.

“Ballast weights were added to ensure that the crew module’s center of gravity can achieve the appropriate entry and descent performance and also ensure that the vehicle lands in the correct orientation to reduce structural impact loads,” according to Lockheed Martin.

Engineers will remain busy throughout this week continuing to work at a 24/7 pace to get Orion ready for the December liftoff.

Orion heat shield attached to the bottom of the capsule by engineers during assembly work inside the  Operations and Checkout High Bay facility at KSC.  Credit: NASA
Orion heat shield attached to the bottom of the capsule by engineers during assembly work inside the Operations and Checkout High Bay facility at KSC. Credit: NASA

The next steps involve completing the power and fluid umbilical connections between the CM and SM and firmly bolting the two modules together inside the FAST cell.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Service module at bottom.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

An exhaustive series of electrical, avionic and radio frequency tests will follow. The team will then conduct final systems checks to confirm readiness for flight.

The LAS will then be stacked on top. The entire stack will then be rolled out to the launch pad for integration with the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The CM/SM stacking operation was able to move forward following the successful attachment of the world’s largest heat shield onto the bottom of the CM in late May. Read my prior story – here.

“Now that we’re getting so close to launch, the spacecraft completion work is visible every day,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion Program manager in a statement.

“Orion’s flight test will provide us with important data that will help us test out systems and further refine the design so we can safely send humans far into the solar system to uncover new scientific discoveries on future missions.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle now under development to replace the now retired space shuttle. The state-of-the-art spacecraft will carry America’s astronauts on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

No humans have flown beyond low Earth orbit in more than four decades since Apollo 17, NASA’s final moon landing mission launched in December 1972.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

One of the primary goals of NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) during scorching re-entry heating.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

A trio of parachutes will then unfurl to slow Orion down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The EFT-1 mission will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft, inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. All these measurements will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system.

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean,” said Lightfoot.

“Orion EFT-1 is really exciting as the first step on the path of humans to Mars,” said Lightfoot. “It’s a stepping stone to get to Mars.”

“We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what to expect on returning [astronauts] from Mars.”

Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Concurrently, new American-made private crewed spaceships are under development by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada – with funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) – to restore US capability to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth by late 2017.

Read my exclusive new interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden explaining the importance of getting Commercial Crew online to expand our reach into space- here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
Orion schematic. Credit: NASA

Spectacular Nighttime Blastoff Sends Critical NASA TDRS Communications Relay Skyward from Cape – Photo Gallery

The dual Atlas V rocket engines roar to life on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41. The launch vehicle will boost NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-L, spacecraft to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 9:33 p.m. EST on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: NASA

The dual Atlas V rocket engines roar to life on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. The launch vehicle will boost NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-L, spacecraft to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 9:33 p.m. EST on Jan. 23, 2014.
Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

A spectacular nighttime blastoff lit up the evening skies for hundreds of miles around the Florida Space coast on a mission that sent a critical NASA communications relay satellite to orbit this evening, Jan. 23.

NASA’s huge Tracking and Data Relay Satellite L (TDRS-L) is now safely in orbit following tonight’s successful launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Atlas V rocket was launched at 9:33 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 into crystal clear skies that gave excited spectators an uncommonly long and stunning launch spectacle that was well worth the wait.

The 3.8 ton TDRS-L satellite will become part of a network providing high-data-rate communications to the International Space Station (ISS), Hubble Space Telescope, launch vehicles and a host of other research spacecraft that relay absolutely critical flight, telemetry and science data.

Water reflection shot of NASA TDRS-L satellite launch aboard Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II - www.scriptunasimages.com
Water reflection shot of NASA TDRS-L satellite launch aboard Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II – www.scriptunasimages.com

The recently launched Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo carrier also relays data via the TDRS system.

The ISS, Hubble and all these other spacecraft could not function without the TDRS network of relay satellites.

Liftoff of NASA”s TDRS-L atop Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014 from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Credit: NASA
Liftoff of NASA”s TDRS-L atop Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014 from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Credit: NASA

The TDRS-L satellite will also be used to track and relay vital information for the maiden launch of NASA’s next generation Orion human spaceflight capsule slated for Fall 2014.

Read my latest Orion update – here.

“TDRS-L and the entire TDRS fleet provide a vital service to America’s space program by supporting missions that range from Earth-observation to deep space discoveries,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“TDRS also will support the first test of NASA’s new deep space spacecraft, the Orion crew module, in September. This test will see Orion travel farther into space than any human spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years.”

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) payload at 9:33 p.m. EST today from Space Launch Complex-41. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launch photography
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) payload at 9:33 p.m. EST today from Space Launch Complex-41. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launch photography

TDRS-L arrived in geosynchronous transfer orbit about two hours after liftoff. It will orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles.

The venerable Atlas V rocket is one of the most reliable and well built rockets in the world.

Indeed the Atlas V has been entrusted to launch many high value missions for NASA and the Defense Department- such as Curiosity, JUNO and the X-37 B.

Clear of the lightning wires, the Atlas 5-401 accelerates to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net
Clear of the lightning wires, the Atlas 5-401 accelerates to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net

The last Atlas V launch from the Cape occurred in November 2013 and sent NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter on a voyage to the Red Planet.

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And the two stage rocket is being man-rated right now to launch humans to low Earth orbit in the near future.

The Atlas V has been chosen to launch two of the upcoming astronaut ‘space taxis’ as part of NASA’s commercial crew initiative to launch human crews to the International Space Station.

Just today, Sierra Nevada Corp announced that their Dream Chaser mini shuttle will launch to orbit on its first flight on Nov. 1, 2016.

TDRS-L is the 12th in this series of communications satellites.

It is identical to the TDRS-K spacecraft launched in 2013, which was the first of the third generation of TDRS satellites.

They were built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., and have a 15 year design lifetime.

NASA will now conduct a three month in orbit checkout.

TDRS-M, the next spacecraft in this series, is on track to be ready for launch in late 2015.

TDRS-L awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
TDRS-L awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

This is the third generation of TDRS satellites.

“The TDRS fleet began operating during the space shuttle era with the launch of TDRS-1 in 1983. Of the 11 TDRS spacecraft placed in service to date, eight still are operational. Four of the eight have exceeded their design life,” said NASA.

The Atlas V launched in the 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and no solid rocket motors. The first stage was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. The Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Pictured in Astrotech’s payload processing facility on 3 January 2014, TDRS-L resembles an enormous insect and will form the 12th member of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite family. Photo Credit: Mike Killian Photography/AmericaSpace
Pictured in Astrotech’s payload processing facility on 3 January 2014, TDRS-L resembles an enormous insect and will form the 12th member of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite family. Photo Credit: Mike Killian Photography/AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

NASA Pressing Towards Fall 2014 Orion Test Flight – Service Module Complete

Engineers prepare Orion’s service module for installation of the fairings that will protect it during launch this fall when Orion launches on its first mission. The service module, along with its fairings, is now complete. Credit: NASA

Engineers prepare Orion’s service module for installation of the fairings that will protect it during launch this fall when Orion launches on its first mission. The service module, along with its fairings, is now complete. Credit: NASA
Story Updated[/caption]

2014 is the Year of Orion.

Orion is NASA’s next human spaceflight vehicle destined for astronaut voyages beyond Earth and will launch for the first time later this year on its inaugural test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The space agency is rapidly pressing forward with efforts to finish building the Orion crew module slated for lift off this Fall on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission.

NASA announced today that construction of the service module section is now complete.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Orion module stack is comprised of three main elements – the Launch Abort System (LAS) on top, the crew module (CM) in the middle and the service module (SM) on the bottom.

With the completion of the service module, two thirds of the Orion EFT-1 mission stack are now compete.

LAS assembly was finalized in December.

The crew module is in the final stages of construction and completion is due by early spring.

Orion is being manufactured at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) inside a specially renovated high bay in the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C).

“We are making steady progress towards the launch in the fall,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a media briefing back dropped by the Orion service module inside the O&C facility.

“It’s very exciting because it signals we are almost there getting back to deep space and going much more distant than where we are operating in low Earth orbit at the ISS.”

“And I’m very excited for the young people who will have an opportunity to fly Orion,” Bolden told me in the O&C.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion under terms of a contract from NASA.

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The inaugural flight of Orion on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission is on schedule to blast off from the Florida Space Coast in mid September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster, Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told Universe Today during a recent interview at KSC.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service Module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion is currently under development as NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle to replace the now retired space shuttle.

Concurrently, NASA’s commercial crew initiative is fostering the development of commercial space taxi’s to ferry US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Get the details in my interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about his firm’s Dragon ‘space taxi’ launching aboard the SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 boosterhere.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 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 (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

The crew module rests atop the service module, similar to the Apollo Moon landing program architecture.

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SM provides in-space power, propulsion capability, attitude control, thermal control, water and air for the astronauts.

For the EFT-1 flight, the SM is not fully outfitted. It is a structural representation simulating the exact size and mass.

In a significant difference from Apollo, Orion is equipped with a trio of massive fairings that encase the SM and support half the weight of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. The purpose is to improve performance by saving weight from the service module, thus maximizing the vehicles size and capability in space.

All three fairings are jettisoned at an altitude of 100 miles up when they are no longer need to support the stack.

The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: NASA
The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

On the next Orion flight in 2017, the service module will be manufactured built by the European Space Agency (ESA).

“When we go to deep space we are not going alone. It will be a true international effort including the European Space Agency to build the service module,” said Bolden.

The new SM will be based on components from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which is an unmanned resupply spacecraft used to deliver cargo to the ISS.

A key upcoming activity for the CM is installation of the thermal protection system, including the heat shield.

The heat shield is the largest one ever built. It arrived at KSC last month loaded inside NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft while I observed. Read my story – here.

The 2014 EFT-1 test flight was only enabled by the extremely busy and productive year of work in 2013 by the Orion EFT-1 team.

“There were many significant Orion assembly events ongoing on 2013” said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin, in an interview with Universe Today at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

“This includes the heat shield construction and attachment, power on, installing the plumbing for the environmental and reaction control system, completely outfitting the crew module, attached the tiles and building the service module which finally leads to mating the crew and service modules (CM & SM) in early 2014,” Price told me.

Orion was originally planned to send American astronauts back to Moon – until Project Constellation was cancelled by the Obama Administration.

Now with Orion moving forward and China’s Yutu rover trundling spectacularly across the Moon, one question is which country will next land humans on the Moon – America or China?

Read my story about China’s manned Moon landing plans – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink