Thursday, 4 December 2014

Countdown to launch

Launch of the first flight test of Orion, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft that will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward to Mars, is now less than an hour away.

The Orion will launch, uncrewed, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket at 0705 local time (1205 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

The window for launch is two hours and 39 minutes, and weather at both the launch and splashdown sites is currently showing ‘green’.

During its 4.5 hour trip, Orion will orbit Earth twice and travel to an altitude of 3,600 miles into space.

The flight is designed to test many of the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews.

United Launch Alliance operates the Delta IV-Heavy, the largest rocket in the American launch inventory.

The first stage includes three core stages, each one 134-feet-tall and 16.7 feet in diameter. An RS-68 engine is at the base of each core stage to give the rocket a combined thrust of about two million pounds.

The stage holds super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. The second stage of the Delta IV Heavy is powered by a single RL10B-2 engine that also uses a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The Orion spacecraft is bolted to the top of the second stage.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at Johnson Space Center is saying the weather looks good off the coast of Baja, California, where Orion will descend and splashdown to end the flight test. Navy ships are waiting in the area to recover the Orion spacecraft.

Live coverage of the launch from Nasa can be viewed by clicking here

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