All the three core rocket boosters for NASA’s new spacecraft Orion have now been successfully joined together with the launch vehicle, bringing Orion one step closer to its first test flight.
The launch vehicle, called the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket, consists of the three rocket boosters in its first section. In June, the first booster was attached to the centre rocket, while the second booster was attached in August.
Now that the first section, or stage, has been assembled, the second stage of Delta IV Heavy is ready to be connected to the first stage in the ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). The next stage consists of an RL 10-B-2 engine, which NASA plans to later integrate with another NASA rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built – and NASA will use it for Orion’s first mission scheduled for 2017.
Orion is an exploration vehicle that will allow humans to travel deeper into space than ever before – as well as provide safe re-entry from those missions.
But the first flight test, known as Exploration Flight Test-1, will give engineers the chance to analyse the Delta IV Heavy launch system in preparation for the SLS integration. In addition, the NASA engineers will assess the systems important for crew safety during re-entry, such as the launch abort system, the heat shield and the parachute system.
Exploration Flight Test-1 is a four-hour mission during which Orion will orbit Earth twice from 3,600 miles away. Based on their findings during that time, engineers will be able to confirm the effectiveness of the spacecraft’s designs and determine how to reduce risks and costs for later Orion flights.
Orion is now in its final assembly at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The flight is scheduled for December 2014 and will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.