Ready for close-up: NASA shows off RM50bil Orion spaceship


  • Living
  • Monday, 17 Nov 2014

The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule at NASA's Space Kennedy Center in Florida being moved to Cape Canaveral. – Reuters

Check out NASA’s new US$15bil (RM50.3bil) spaceship Orion, designed to fly astronauts to the moon, Mars and other faraway destinations.

NASA’s new spaceship Orion, the one the space agency claims is humanity’s ticket to the stars, arrives at a Florida launch pad on Nov 12, in preparation for its debut unmanned test flight next month. The gumdrop-shaped capsule, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, is designed to test the spaceship’s computers, heat shield, parachutes and other equipment.

“This is our first step on that journey to Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana tells reporters before Orion’s move to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad 37, located just south of the NASA spaceport.

The capsule will be positioned on top of a heavy-lift Delta 4 rocket, manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Lift off is scheduled for just after sunrise on Dec 4. 

During the orbital test flight, Orion will fly twice around Earth, travelling as far as 5,800km from the planet after which it will slam back into the atmosphere at a speed of nearly 32,000kph. Orion’s heat shield should reach temperatures of about 2,200 Celsius. 

The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule at NASA's Space Kennedy Center in Florida being moved to Cape Canaveral. – Reuters

Just a mere four-and-a-half hours after launching, Orion is due to make a parachute landing in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000km southwest of San Diego.

“This initial test flight, which focuses on some of the highest risks to bringing the crew back safely from exploration missions, is really important to us,” says Ellen Ochoa, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

“The flight itself into space is huge because we’ll see how the systems operate in the environment, but actually building the first (capsule) is just as big,” Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer said.

NASA is spending about US$375mil on the test flight, not including the cost of the capsule. Total spending on Orion, including more than US$8bil under the cancelled Constellation moon program, is expected to reach about US$15bil.

Future Orion capsules will fly on a new NASA rocket called the Space Launch System, currently under development under a separate US$15bil effort. The rocket, with another unmanned Orion capsule, is expected to debut in Nov 2018. – Reuters

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