NASA's First Orion Spacecraft Test Flight Explained (Infographic)

Diagrams show flight of Orion test mission.
The capsule will rise to 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) in space in order to test its heat shielding and resistance to radiation. (Image credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

NASA's unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 mission (EFT-1), scheduled for launch on Dec. 4, 2014, is meant to test the Orion capsule’s heat shield by sending the spacecraft zooming back to Earth from an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers). This will approximate the heat and pressure conditions that Orion will face when returning from deep-space missions to the moon or an asteroid.

Ultrawide field cameras in Orion’s windows will record flight events. 1,200 sensors aboard the capsule will record stresses, vibration, temperature, pressure and acceleration during the flight.

For the test flight, Orion will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy booster. When the capsule becomes operational, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket is expected to be available for the task. [The Orion Capsule: NASA's Next Spaceship (Photos)]

At its highest, Orion will be farther into space than any human-spaceflight vehicle has been since 1972. The Orion capsule will pass through the inner Van Allen Belt, a zone of radiation trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. Electonics and astronauts bound for the moon or deep-space destinations must survive passage through this radiation.

Delta IV Heavy specifications:

Height: 236 feet (72 meters)


Main core diameter: 16 feet (5 m)


Width: 49 feet (15 m)


Stages: Liquid-fueled strap-on boosters, core stage and upper stage


Capacity: 63,470 pounds (28,790 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit



Mission plan (hours, minutes and seconds after liftoff):


00:00:00 - Liftoff


03:00:00 - Maximum altitude: 3,600 miles (5,800 km)

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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.