Orion, the space vehicle system intended to take astronauts into deep space, must complete both an atmospheric re-entry test and a low-altitude emergency escape mission. NASA intends to conduct the first test in late 2013 or early 2014, followed by the second test in 2015 or 2016. The second would follow in 2015 or 2016. An initial unmanned test flight of Orion and the new Space Launch System is proposed for 2017, with human expeditions beyond Earth orbit commencing around 2021.
Orion is a holdover remaining from the now cancelled Project Constellation moon program initiated under President George W. Bush. Under the current administration’s plans for manned space flight the Orion system might be used to land a manned mission on an asteroid.
According to an article by Florida Today Staff Writer Todd Halvorson, NASA spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier was briefed earlier this month on the two options. The article speculated that NASA may favor conducting the atmospheric re-entry test first as the Orion capsule for that mission then could be then re-used for the low-altitude abort test.
“Within the next two months, I expect him to make a choice,” said NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.
The two upcoming flight tests follow a 2009 launch-pad abort test performed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The intent is to show Orion can be safely flown during two of the most critical periods of a mission.
To read more about the upcoming test flights, click here for the Floridatoday.com article