NASA have set a date for their debut flight of the Orion. Next September. With a follow up in 2017.
The September 2014 launch is to test basic features an high speed re-entry.
The 2017 will be on a circumlunar trajectory, on the SLS if it ever gets built.
Despite the early description of Orion as "Apollo on steroids," it's clear that the 21st-century spacecraft is not simply a retread of the capsule that took astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Infographic: Details of the Orion four-person capsule that could carry crews to the Moon or an asteroid, beginning in 2021.Pin It Details of the Orion four-person capsule that could carry crews to the Moon or an asteroid, beginning in 2021.
Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com contributor
"Apollo on steroids is challenging. It sure looks like it because of its shape," Price said. That shape was chosen, he added, because it minimized the risk associated with Orion's aerothermal environment, the heating induced by the very high speeds of re-entry.
"We had all the data on full-scale Apollo. Sizing that up a little bit, by 30 percent, was straightforward. That's why the outer mold line (Orion’s outer surface) is the way it is. But then after that, it really is all different," Price said.
For one, Orion's computer systems and the built-in redundancy are far different than they were on spacecraft 50 years ago, Price said. "We've got a million lines of software code. And when we go to the moon, we’ll have another million."
The Orion spacecraft is imbued with autonomy, failure detection systems and the ability to reroute things — say, a balky thruster that's automatically rebalanced by redundant thrusters, Price said.
"It's a lot more complexity," Price said, "so that it can be safer and more reliable. It makes for an amazing machine."