Orion and its solid rocket on the launch pad Monday morning at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. [credit:
Trevor Mahlmann ]
Nearly five years have passed since NASA first launched its Orion spacecraft to an apogee of 5,800km above the Earth, completing a successful test flight of the capsule intended to carry astronauts to lunar orbit in the 2020s.
Now, NASA is preparing for its second Orion launch, although this flight will be considerably shorter. On Tuesday morning, NASA intends to launch a boilerplate version of Orion—essentially a well instrumented vehicle without any life-support equipment or many other critical systems—on top of a solid rocket booster built by Northrop Grumman.
The rocket is actually an old Peacemaker intercontinental ballistic missile, now refurbished for commercial purposes. It will launch the Orion to an altitude of nearly 9.5km above the Florida coast in order to test Orion’s launch abort system at the point of maximum dynamic pressure. This will occur about 55 seconds after launch.