NASA's Orion splashes down in Pacific Ocean after successful test flight

NASA's new deep space capsule Orion made a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean after a dramatic test flight on Friday, ushering in a new era of human exploration aiming for Mars.

NASA's Orion splashes down in Pacific Ocean after successful test flight

Washington: NASA's new deep space capsule Orion made a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean Friday after a dramatic test flight, ushering in a new era of human exploration aiming for Mars.

The unmanned test flight ended 4½ hours after it began. The spaceship travelled 60,000 miles and achieved the record of flying farther and faster than any capsule built for humans since the Apollo moon program.

"Orion's maiden flight from start to finish was picture perfect," said NASA, "The most perfect flight you can ever imagine."

During its trip, Orion orbited the Earth twice, reaching a peak altitude of 5,793 km.

The Orion spacecraft lifted off at 7:05 am (0535 IST) from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Initially, the first test launch was scheduled for Thursday, but was delayed due to wind gusts, technical issues with the rocket and a misplaced boat off the coast.

The capsule is meant to carry humans to an asteroid or Mars in the coming years.

Orion test flight: As it happened

  • The Orion spacecraft has been powered down following a perfect first flight test.
  • NASA says Orion is in stable position waiting for pickup by the Navy team. 
  • NASA's Curiosity rover congratulates Orion after it made a 'bull's-eye' splashdown in the Pacific.
  • Orion travelled 60,000 miles before safely touching down in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Splashdown confirmed after brief flight of four and half hours.
  • Orion descending towards the Pacific under three parachutes that would nearly cover a football field.

  • Signal re-acquired.

  • As Orion enters the Earth's atmosphere at 20,000 miles per hour, there's a brief blackout period for the telemetry systems blocking communication signals.

  • Orion has reached Earth's atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), tweets NASA.

  • Orion is now 400 miles above the earth, says NASA.

  • Orion has initiated its return to Earth and completed a 10-second engine burn, says NASA.

  • NASA keeps an Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle ready near the landing zone to record the Orion spacecraft as it returns from orbit.  

  • 11 parachutes are involved in today's Orion flight test. Here's how they will work to safely parachute Orion to Earth.

  • The US space agency reports that Orion is proving very stable during this first-ever flight test.

  • NASA says Orion's getting ready to return to Earth. 

  • Orion's now in position for separation from its service module, reports NASA.
  • According to NASA, Orion is farther than any vehicle built for humans has been in 40+ years.

  • About three hours and six minutes into the flight, Orion has reached its peak altitude of 3,604.2 statute miles above Earth 

  • Splashdown at 11:30am ET in the Pacific, 275 miles west of Baja, California.
  • AS Orion crosses 3,000-miles in altitude, the US Navy ships that will help recover the capsule have been deployed near splashdown site.

  • NASA astronaut Terry W. Virts tweets: "Watching Orion launch with crew from the ISS."
  • NASA reports the spacecraft has passed through the lower Van Allen belt and remains on course as it flies through space.

  • Spacecraft's cameras are turned off as it enters intense radiation of the lower Van Allen Belt.

  • Everything going perfectly on the maiden flight of Orion, says NASA TV commentator Rob Navias.

  • Second stage engine cut-off- confirmed.

  • As Orion finishes its first lap of Earth the uppers stage engine burn will propel it to an elliptical orbit.

  • 1 hour 55 minutes into flight. Second engine burn successful. 4 minutes remain in burn, reports NASA.
  • Orion is now in its first lap of Earth, says NASA.
  • Lead flight director for Orion's first flight, Mike Sarafin, monitors the spaceship from Mission Control Houston.

  • Missed the launch of Orion? Watch it on NASA's YouTube channel
  • Orion is in orbit, says NASA.
  • Launch Abort System and Spacecraft Adapter Jetisson panels have separated. First 2 test objectives successful!
  • Orion is soaring over Earth at 15,000 mph on its way to its preliminary orbit. 
  • Second stage has ignited.
  • Main engine has cut off. First stage has separated.
  • Orion craft lifts off.
  • Port and starboard boosters have separated. 4 minutes and 10 seconds into flight.
  • Orion launch team gives "GO" for liftoff at 7:05amET/12:05 UTC!
  • Orion terminal countdown has started, we're 4 minutes from launch, says NASA.
  • Orion launch director gives permission to launch. 
  • Orion has no issues; weather has cleared. We are go for launch, says NASA.

“It’s a big day for me, and exciting day for space and, driving up the causeway, looking at all the cars, I think this is a big day for everyone,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as he followed the progress of today’s countdown for the Orion Flight Test.