With Hayabusa 2 safely off on its six-year cruise to an asteroid, we can turn our attention now to the long-awaited first test flight of the Orion space capsule on Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). Far from a boilerplate, this capsule has all the flight computers and maneuvering thrusters of a real, production spacecraft, and is even pressurized for flight despite not carrying a living payload. It is instead carrying mass models of crew and thousands of instruments to measure its performance and the environment which crew and cargo will endure when this spacecraft goes into full service. If all goes well, the nearly four-and-a-half-hour flight will take it 3,600 miles in altitude, high enough to get entry speeds suitable for validating the performance of its ablative heat shield, the largest ever built. The flight will, of course, be carried live on NASA TV; search the web for a convenient stream.
7:05 AM EST/6:05 AM CST: Launch window opens; it stays open for two and a half hours, so the launch could occur from LC37B anywhere in that window.
T+0:03:56: Strap-on booster cores shutdown and jettison.
T+0:05:33: Core stage shutdown and jettison.
T+0:05:49: Delta Upper Stage ignition.
T+0:06:15: Service Module panel jettison; there are three panels protecting the service module, as opposed to the four of the Apollo-Saturn, which protected the LM; these panels only protect a mockup of the Orion Service Module (the final version of which is under development by the European Space Agency in exchange for ISS services).
T+0:06:20: Launch Escape System and CM shroud jettison.
T+0:17:39: Delta Upper Stage shutdown; end of burn 1.
T+1:55:26: Delta Upper Stage relights for burn 2.
T+2:00:09: Delta Upper Stage shuts down.
T+2:05:00: Region of maximum predicted radiation exposure: passage through the lower Van Allen Belt.
T+3:23:41: Service Module jettison.
T+3:30:00: Second Van Allen passage.
T+4:13:35: Entry interface.
T+4:13:41: Radio blackout.
T+4:15:03: Peak heating.
T+4:16:05: Reacquisition of signal.
T+4:19:31: Drogue chute deploy.
T+4:20:38: Main chute deploy; like Apollo, there are three.
T+4:23:20: Pacific Ocean splashdown; recovery begins.
And, of course, here’s the animation of the mission. 😉