Spacecraft Animation: Orion EFT-1!

Our next crewed spacecraft for deep space — and perhaps to beyond the Earth-Moon system — will likely be Orion.  That’s the intention anyway; SpaceX is also aiming for that, but in a more long-term sort of way, as is the Chinese space program.  It will take a major step towards that on December 4, when it makes its first uncrewed test flight,  Engineering Flight Test 1.  Since its launch vehicle (the boringly-named Space Launch System) won’t be ready for a while, the Delta IV Heavy will launch it onto a trajectory which, although it goes out a mere 30,000 miles (the Moon is almost ten times that), is far enough to enter the Van Allen Belts and to achieve reentry speeds comparable to an interplanetary return.  And that’s the point of this flight: to validate the spacecraft’s performance in the Van Allen Belts and its ability to survive a higher-speed reentry with its massive ablative heat shield, the largest ever built.  (The Space Shuttle’s was larger, but was a thermal-soak shield and could not have withstood this sort of heat.  It also wasn’t as thick as this one is.)

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