The heat shield for NASA's Orion spacecraft was loaded onto a Super Guppy plane in Manchester, NH, on December 4, 2013, for transport to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, was unloaded Thursday, December 5, and is scheduled for installation on Orion in March 2014.
The heat shield will be used in September 2014 during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. The returning capsule is expected to encounter temperatures of almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels through Earth's atmosphere at up to 20,000 mph, faster than any spacecraft in the last 40 years.
Data gathered during the flight will influence decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to space systems and development. It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for future Orion missions, which include exploring an asteroid and Mars.