Lockheed Martin's Orion spacecraft has finished structural testing and is structurally prepared for its first launch in September, 2014.
The capsule was tested to 110% of expected loads from such traumatic events as launch, separation and re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
"The static loads campaign is our best method of testing to verify what works on paper will work in space," says Charlie Lundquist, NASA's Orion crew and service module manager. "This is how we validate our design."
Small cracks discovered in 2012 after limited structural testing raised concerns about the design of the Lockheed spacecraft. Though Lockheed repaired the damage and expressed confidence in its solution, the formal completion of structural tests is a relief to both the company and NASA.
Orion is scheduled for a first flight in September, 2014, atop a Boeing Delta IV launch vehicle. Though not capable of reaching the velocity necessary to escape Earth's gravity well using the Delta IV, NASA projects the capsule will re-enter Earth's atmosphere with 84% of the energy required for a lunar flight.
Orion will enter orbit propelled by the Space Launch System, a Space Shuttle-derived series of solid rocket motors capable of boosting such payloads as far as the Moon and even Mars. SLS will not fly until 2017 at the earliest, and even then with a temporary upper stage adapted from the Delta IV.