TWO OF THE NEXT GENERATION of space vehicles are going through their paces on the ground in Florida.
The Orion Ground Test Vehicle is seen in the photo below in the high bay of the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Centre, during a tour for media representatives.
Orion is the spacecraft designed to carry crews to space beyond low-Earth orbit. It will provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
In many respects, Orion is similar to the old Apollo command module, but with the ability of carry at least four astronauts (Apollo could carry only three).
It was announced only weeks ago, that the Orion service module will be provided by the European Space Agency, based upon its successful Automated Transfer Vehicle uncrewed cargo craft.
The first unpiloted test flight of the Orion is scheduled in 2014 atop a Delta IV rocket, and in 2017, on a Space Launch System rocket.
The spacecraft will launch on the upcoming SpaceX CRS-2 mission, perhaps in March. The flight will be the second commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station by SpaceX.
NASA has contracted for a total of 12 commercial resupply flights from SpaceX and eight from the Orbital Sciences Corp.
Adapted from information issued by NASA. Photos by Frankie Martin and Kim Shiflett.
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