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Next-gen spacecraft on display in Florida

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 Orion Ground Test Vehicle at the Kennedy Space Centre

The Orion Ground Test Vehicle at the Kennedy Space Centre

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, undergoing processing for the system’s second operational flight.

Meanwhile, the Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, Dragon spacecraft with solar array fairings attached, is seen inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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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Cargo capsule set for launch

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

AT THE CAPE CANAVERAL Air Force Station (adjacent to the Kennedy Space Centre) in Florida, final preparations are being made for a historic launch at the end of this month.

The unmanned Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket, both privately developed by the SpaceX corporation, are due for launch on April 30 (USA time) on a combined test flight and cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA is providing seed money to SpaceX and a second company, Orbital Sciences, to develop and operate unmanned craft that can keep the ISS resupplied in the post-shuttle era.

SpaceX is intending to field a manned version of Dragon later this decade, capable of taking seven astronauts into low Earth orbit.

More information: NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation System

Dragon capsule is placed atop its cargo ring

Dragon capsule is mated to a "ring" that will sit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule attached on top sits fully fuelled on Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during a launch dress rehearsal.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images courtesy NASA / Gianni Woods / Jim Grossmann / Kim Shiflett.

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