NASA's Orion Launch Live Stream Video: Watch Online Spacecraft Test Launch

( [email protected] ) Dec 04, 2014 01:07 AM EST
NASA's Orion Test Flight
Dec. 3, 2014 -- The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37. Photo credit: Courtesy of United Launch Alliance

UPDATE: Today's launch attempt for NASA's new Orion spacecraft has been scrubbed due to problems with valves on the rocket. NASA will postpone the launch at 7:05 am ET on Friday. 

In an event that may harken back to the days of the 1960s space race to the moon, NASA plans to launch its new Orion spacecraft Thursday morning at 7:05 a.m. EST, with a 2 hour, 39 minute launch window. which can be watched online via live stream below.

The test flight is supposed to ferry astronauts to deep-space destinations like Mars. Although no one will be on board, the launch will allow NASA to test the viability of deep-space flight and the craft's design.

"The goal was to create a cockpit... that would allow the crew to control that spacecraft for that period of time for these deep-space missions, and to have the flexibility so that even if they were away from the planet for months or even years, they would have the information they needed to fly that vehicle and return safely to the Earth," NASA astronaut Dr. Lee Morin said.

According to Macrina Cooper-White of Huffington Post, the control panel inside the craft will have mostly "virtual switches" projected on glass computer screens. This measure is designed to save weight.

"With a physical switch, not only is there the weight of the switch, but you also have the weight of the wire to the switch, and you have to have the weight of the circuity that takes that wire and feeds it into the vehicle computers," Morin said.

Justin Bachman of Businessweek noted that the Orion crew module looked quite similar to the iconic Apollo craft that took astronauts to the moon more than 40 years ago. According to NASA guidance engineer Kelly Smith, the blunt cone shape is intentional.

"The 'capsule shape' happens to be good aerodynamically for slowing down the vehicle without it burning up like a meteor," Smith wrote in a Reddit forum on the Orion spacecraft. "Sharp shapes tend to heat up too much and melt/vaporize. A blunt shape works well hypersonically for keeping the heating to more manageable levels. If you look at ballistic missiles, all of their nose cones are 'blunt' as well (spheres, sphere-cones, etc) to deal with the extreme heating environment."

Smith also explained why the cone has an imbalanced shape, making the craft fly "crooked" as it goes back to earth at a rate of five times the speed of sound.

"This angle of attack causes Orion to have a little bit of lift; we can use this lift to steer the vehicle and control the entry trajectory by banking Orion like a glider," he wrote.

If the weather cooperates, Orion will be launched Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Bachman reported that over a 4.5-hour, two-orbit cycle around Earth, NASA will test the craft against higher radiation levels found outside low-earth orbit at a height 15 times higher than the International Space Station - 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) from earth. 

NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told Businessweek that the Orion craft will face similar challenges to capsules used back in the 1960s.

"Although our computers have gotten a lot more powerful, the physics of atmospheric entry hasn't changed since Apollo," Schierholz said.

According to Bachman, NASA also consulted with several retired employees who worked on the Apollo program; one of them will observe the flight at Mission Control in Texas.

Compared to the original Apollo crew module, Orion is three times larger and can carry four astronauts as far as Mars. Businessweek noted it can also hold six people on shorter trips. 

Tags : NASA, Orion, space test flights, Cape Canaveral, deep space travel, Apollo, deep space flight, Mars, red planet, Orion capsule, outer space, rocket launch