NASA intends to move a flight test of the abort system for the Orion crew exploration vehicle to Cape Canaveral from a missile range in New Mexico, and the agency is targeting March 2014 for the launch.
The test flight is to be staged at Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to an agency white paper obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.
The test originally was scheduled to take place at White Sands Missile Range because the Orion spacecraft initially was designed to return to Earth and parachute down to land. But NASA since has changed that plan, and now, the spacecraft will splash down in water.
Senior NASA officials this week decided there would be several advantages to launching the test flight from Cape Canaveral. A water landing could be executed, and the launch site would be located close to Orion assembly, integration and production facilities at Kennedy Space Center.
A converted Peacekeeper missile will be used to launch an Orion crew module equipped with a Launch Abort System, which would use rocket motors to pull the spacecraft away from a booster rocket during a launch accident.
The test is expected to last 8 minute and 23 seconds. The abort system rockets will be ignited 45 seconds into flight when the crew module is at an altitude of 40,000 feet. The Orion module will reach an altitude of 58,000 feet before parachutes deploy. Splashdown is expected to take place 10 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral.