NASA’s unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 mission (EFT-1), scheduled for launch on Dec. 4, 2014, is planned to test the Orion capsule’s heat shield by sending the spacecraft zooming back to Earth from an altitude of 3,600 miles.
This will approximate the heat and pressure conditions that Orion will face when returning from deep-space missions to the moon or an asteroid.
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) rocket is expected to be available for the task.
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. Electronics and astronauts bound for the moon or deep-space destinations must survive passage through this radiation.
Orion marks a return to the “capsule on a rocket” method of launch, almost identical to Apollo. Remember, when Orion launches with a crew it will have a Service Module designed and built in Europe by Airbus Defence and Space.
Thanks to space.com for the infographic.