NASA indicated on Tuesday that it plans on moving forward with its deep space exploration goals by announcing plans for a 2014 unmanned flight test of its Orion spacecraft.
In a release, the U.S. space agency said that it would add the new flight test to its existing contract to build the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV) with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. NASA said it expects to conduct the new test in early 2014.
According to NASA, the flight test will "fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions."
The test will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and NASA said the goal is "to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, [Space Launch Systems], and 21st century ground systems programs"
Originally, the Orion capsule was part of NASA's Constellation program, which President Obama canceled in early 2010. At the time, the president said he endorsed the idea that future space exploration missions should be done using private spacecraft and personnel.
But last May, NASA unveiled plans for a new, next-generation deep space crew exploration vehicle, the MPCV. The space agency said at the time that it intended to "aggressively" pursue different options for a heavy lift launch vehicle that is able to ferry humans into deep space. It is expected that the MPCV would be placed atop any such rocket. The MPCV is thought to be capable of carrying four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days.