NASA project Orion will be test launched tonight on a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida for a short journey of 4 hours and 24 minutes, which will help the scientists test deep space exploration by manned missions in the future.
The spacecraft Orion, built by Lockheed Martin, has been designed in a conical vessel model similar to the Apollo craft that supposedly carried two astronauts to the Moon in 1969. Though the spacecraft is designed for future manned missions, no astronauts will be on board as it is an experimental test mission.
The exact lift-off is scheduled at 07:05 local time (12:05 GMT), unless inclement weather disrupts it at the last minute. Although Orion is a Nasa project, it was developed on contract basis by Lockheed Martin, under supervision and guidance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The Thursday’s flight will witness Orion taking two rounds around the globe at an altitude of 6,000km and whether it withstands heat while re-entering into the atmosphere at a speed of 30,000km/h. Next parachutes will slow down its speed to lower the capsule gently into Pacific waters off Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
“This is huge; Thursday is a giant day for us,” said Nasa chief Charlie Bolden. Orion will transport humans to interplanetary destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars, and return them safely back to Earth. But more than NASA, the success of the mission helps Lockheed to sharpen its spaceship manufacturing prowess in the future.
“The state-of-the-art spacecraft design provides solutions extensible to future missions, and focuses first and foremost on crew safety as it accommodates a crew of up to six astronauts, provides safe ascent abort with no black zones, enables safe abort opportunities during all mission phases and withstands re-entry at speeds greater than 20,000 miles per hour,” said Lockheed Martin on its website.
Apart from Orion, Lockheed will also help prepare for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), slated for 2017, during which Orion will be launched aboard NASA’s Space Launch System for the first time.
Based in Houston, Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Orion team includes major subcontractors Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Technologies Aerospace Systems, and Honeywell, as well as a huge network of minor subcontractors and small businesses in 45 states across the US.
Lockheed Martin is already the core contractor to supply cargo mission to and from the International Space Station (ISS), managing Flight Crew Equipment support, which includes buying, maintaining and preparing items for the ISS crew such as clothing, housekeeping and personal hygiene items, laptop computers and audio and visual equipment.
As the ISS program continues to evolve, Lockheed Martin has been amassing expertise in a field crucial for future manned missions to carry out deep-space exploration.
Lockheed Martin also supports NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston by providing systems engineering and analysis, control center design, development and operations, life sciences services, human in-the-loop simulations, and a broad range of engineering, science and technical services activities.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin currently employs about 115,000 people worldwide, with reported net sales for 2013 at $45.4 billion.