NASA to Launch First Orion Spaceship Test Flight This Week

Orion Capsule's First Test Flight Illustration
An artist's illustration of Orion's first test flight. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA is set to launch the first test flight of its deep-space Orion capsule this week, and you can watch activities leading up to the Thursday (Dec. 4) launch live online.

The Orion capsule — built for NASA by Lockheed Martin — is designed to eventually take humans deeper into space than they've ever gone before. Thursday's unmanned test will help engineers learn more about how Orion's key systems operate in the harsh space environment. Starting Tuesday (Dec. 2), NASA will air various media and public events in the run-up to Orion's launch. You can watch the NASA TV Orion events live on

"During its 4.5-hour trip, Orion will orbit Earth twice and travel to an altitude of 3,600 miles into space," NASA officials said in a statement. "The flight is designed to test many of the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews."

Orion is expected to launch to space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket from Florida at 7:05 a.m. EST (1205 GMT) for the test flight (also called Exploration Flight Test-1). But on Tuesday, NASA officials will host a press conference about what this Orion flight and future tests could mean for Mars exploration.

NASA officials will also host two pre-launch news conferences — one on Tuesday, the other on Wednesday (Dec. 3) — to discuss the test flight. Officials will also brief the media after the test ends later in the day on Thursday.

For this test flight, Orion will make two orbits of Earth, with the second lap taking the capsule 15 times farther from the planet than the International Space Station. Officials have attached more than 1,000 sensors to the spacecraft to monitor its systems during flight.

Orion will also beam down images from its cameras as it is flying through space. NASA will use the information gathered during the test flight to make improvements to the spacecraft before humans set foot onboard.

Learn more about Orion and get a full schedule of events directly through NASA:

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.