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Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

About Orion

What is it? The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will transport astronauts into deep space—farther than mankind has ever trekked before. It will be launched aboard NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), execute long-duration missions and safely return crew members back to Earth.

Where to? The complex spacecraft is capable of ferrying four astronauts to the lunar surface, Lagrange Points, near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), and one day Mars.

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2014 Flight Test

Orion goes farthest in space in 40 years

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The Orion test flight that took place December 5, 2014 put a spacecraft designed for human space exploration farthest into space since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972. Orion reached its highest orbit at 3,600 miles (5,800 km) above Earth, or 15 times higher than the International Space Station.

After orbiting the Earth twice and reaching speeds of more than 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), the capsule splashed down 4-1/2 hours later in the Pacific Ocean. During reentry the capsule endured temperatures close to 4,000 deg F (2,200 deg C), or about 80% of what Orion would endure returning from lunar orbit on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. The entire test flight and return was “nearly flawless,” according to Orion program manager Mark Geyer. It was a crucial test for the spacecraft, proving flight and re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes, and thermal protection.

 

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and the Future

Engineers continue to analyze the data from the test flight to improve Orion’s design for crewed deep space exploration. Critical to their investigations is how the heat shield fared during reentry and how Orion’s 11 parachutes performed to allow the spacecraft to splash down safely in the ocean. The flight also tested the performance of a 3D printed vent. The vent performed as designed so engineers will be looking at other hardware that could be made using the same manufacturing process.

The test flight resulted in millions of data, providing important information to improve the spacecraft’s design before its first mission atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket ever built. SLS will be capable of propelling Orion and its crew to deep space destinations such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission, the first ever mission to identify, capture and direct a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s. SLS and Orion will also take explorers to Mars to continue humankind’s journey beyond Earth.

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