Orion capsule set for static load testing

Washington DC
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The Lockheed Martin Orion capsule is scheduled for intensive load tests beginning on 22 April, one of the last major test series in preparation for its 2014 first flight.

The static load tests will measure how the capsule responds to the stresses of lift-off, separation from the second stage of its launch vehicle and three other major events. Each series of tests will take between three and five days to complete.

Following the load tests, the vehicle will undergo high-speed water testing to confirm its proposed recovery method in anticipation of its first flight in September 2014.

The first flight, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy, will put the capsule into a highly elliptical orbit, to gain as much speed as possible for re-entry. Orion is meant to carry crew on interplanetary missions, launched by the in-development Space Launch System (SLS).

The 2014 flight will have Orion re-entering Earth's atmosphere at 84% of the speed of a return from lunar orbit, giving it "energy as high as current systems will allow", according to Lockheed. The flight will also qualify the Delta's Centaur upper stage to carry the capsule. The next flight, in 2017, will use an SLS core stage and a Centaur upper stage.

The Orion capsule is meant to carry crew on interplanetary missions, though none have yet been definitively selected.