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First Orion Flight Test Capsule Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

Standing beside the Orion flight test capsule, from left, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana and NASA Deputy Director Lori Garver. Credit: NASA photo by Kim Shiflett

WASHINGTON — The first Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that will fly in space arrived July 2 at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla.,  where it will undergo final assembly in preparation for a 2014 test flight atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 rocket.

At Kennedy, engineers with NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver will add heat shielding thermal protection systems, avionics and other subsystems to the Lockheed-built capsule, a test article that will not carry astronauts.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was on hand for the capsule’s arrival at Kennedy, as were staff members from Florida’s mostly Republican congressional delegation, including representatives from the offices of Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Sandy Adams  and Bill Posey. NASA officials also attended, including Lori Garver, the deputy administrator, and Dan Dumbacher, the agency’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems.

The capsule that arrived in Florida will be used for an October 2014 test mission called Exploration Flight Test-1. Orion will be launched to an altitude of 5,800 kilometers, orbit the Earth, then re-enter the atmosphere at speeds approaching those it would experience during a return from lunar space, NASA said in a July 2 press release.

Lunar space is so far the only destination NASA has proposed for a funded Orion mission. The agency arranged the 2014 test flight to get data about critical Orion safety systems prior to sending the capsule around the Moon and back in a pair of missions planned for 2017 and 2021. Both of those missions are to be launched by the heavy-lift Space Launch System NASA is developing. Only the 2021 mission will be crewed.

NASA is paying Lockheed $6.23 billion to build Orion, Trent Perrotto, an agency spokesman, said. Lockheed won the contract in 2006 as part of the defunct Constellation Moon-exploration program and has collected $4.68 billion of the award to date, including $372.6 million in the first five months of this year.

NASA added $375 million to Lockheed’s Orion contract in December so that the company could buy a Delta 4 and run the 2014 test.

“The objectives of this test [are] to stress the heat shield, and stress the exploration functions of Orion,” Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion project manager, said July 2. Geyer and other project officials fielded questions submitted by the public over the Internet.

Geyer said Lockheed chose the Delta 4 because it would need fewer modifications than other rockets capable of launching the 2014 test mission. ULA, the primary launch services provider to the U.S. military, is a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin.

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