NASA has announced that Dec. 4 will mark the first test flight for Orion, the agency’s first spacecraft in the post-space shuttle era. The next-generation spaceship is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The unmanned Orion will launch at 7:05 a.m. EST Dec. 4 aboard a united Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The mission is formally called Exploration Flight Test-1, and its results will eventually pave the way for a “spacecraft that will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward to Mars,” according to a NASA statement. “The flight is designed to test many of the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews.”
Ahead of lift-off, the agency will hold several news conferences and flight test commentary on NASA Television at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion’s 4.5-hour itinerary includes orbiting the Earth twice and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles.
After its journey, Orion will “splashdown” in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles southwest of San Diego, where U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin – which manufactures Orion – will await to bring it back to land.
“At Naval Base San Diego, two Navy ships, the USS Anchorage and the USNS Salvor, have been outfitted with the necessary tools and equipment needed to return Orion to land after the flight test,” NASA said in a statement.