CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA will conduct a critical flight test Tuesday morning of a spacecraft designed to take astronauts — including the first woman — back to the moon by 2024.
- Mock Orion module to be launched to 30,000 feet
- Data sensors with beacons will jettison from falling craft
- People in Cocoa Beach area could stumble across one
- Count on Spectrum News for live coverage of launch window: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The goal of the Orion abort system's test launch is to send the mock crew module 31,000 feet into the sky, then purposely abort the capsule in a simulated in-flight emergency.
Tuesday's test is only 3 minutes long.
Orion has been placed on a booster at Space Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The rocket will launch Orion 6 miles into the atmosphere, going more than Mach 1, to experience high-stress aerodynamic conditions. Then 55 seconds after launch, the abort motor will be fired, using 400,000 pounds of thrust to pull the crew module away from the rocket booster.
From there the Launch Abort System will get Orion upright and then separate.
The test Orion spacecraft is equipped with 12 data recorders with more than 900 sensors, which will be jettisoned as the craft falls back to Earth.
The spacecraft will plunge into the ocean at 300 mph, and NASA says it will sink and not be recovered.
"There are tremendous aerodynamic forces on the vehicle. That's how we pick the test points for this. (It's) the most challenging part of the ascent that Orion will ever see. We want to demonstrate that the LAS works in this environment," said Mark Kirasich, an Orion program manager.
The data sensors have beacons that will guide NASA to them for recovery and study. They're clearly marked with contact information, if anyone along the Cocoa Beach area finds them.
"They float, and they do have a label on them," said Jenny Devolites, NASA's Ascent Abort-2 Test Conductor. "They also actually have a beacon and a transmitter so that we can locate them so when we go out to find them we'll be able to get their tracking information to locate them and pick them up."
The test will help pave the way for the moon mission, called Artemis, and then on to Mars.
The Orion abort system is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The window runs from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET.
Orion will hit the ocean at 300 miles per hour and it’s expected to break apart and sink to the bottom of the ocean. NASA says this method will actually save them time and money.
The Trump administration is pushing NASA to have Orion and the SLS ready for a human mission to the moon by 2024.
But that timeline depends on this abort test to ensure astronaut safety during an actual launch.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article said there were 900 data sensors — but those are part of 12 data recorders, which are the orange boxes that will be jettisoned. The story has been clarified.