Next year’s flight test of the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle will include an operational practice session for NASA flight controllers, as well as data collection needed to refine the heat shield and other design elements.

When the Delta IV Heavy carrying the Orion clears the launch tower at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., control of the flight will shift to Mission Control Center-Houston, just as it did during shuttle-era human launches.

A crew isn’t scheduled to fly on Orion until 2021, but the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) will give NASA controllers a chance to test the procedures they are developing for human launch, spaceflight and recovery.

In next year’s flight test the Delta IV will take the role of the heavy-lift Space Launch System still in development, and of the Orion service module the European Space Agency will build. The Orion testbed under assembly at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., will fly out on a two-orbit elliptical trajectory that will take it deep into space. The vehicle will come back into the atmosphere at 84% of the velocity it would see coming back from the vicinity of the Moon, according to Larry Price, deputy Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin.

The capsule will be protected from the heat of reentry by Avcoat — an epoxy resin built up in a fiberglass honeycomb matrix. Lockheed Martin has shipped the titanium support structure for the shield to Boston, where Textron will install the Avcoat and machine its 1.5-in. thickness to match the support structure. From there it will be shipped to the Cape for integration into the test article.

Thermocouples and calorimeters embedded in the ablative heat shield will collect data on the direct and radiative heat loads during reentry, which engineers can use to validate their design models and make adjustments if necessary.

At present Orion is about 2,000 lb. above its specified 21,500-lb. weight. Data collected on the first flight may allow engineers to trim some of that excess from the heat shield, or let them know that they will have to find and trim it somewhere else.