In 2011, NASA began developing a heavy-lift rocket for the human exploration of deep space, helped foster a new era of commercial spaceflight and technology breakthroughs and fully utilized a newly complete space station.
“The year truly marks the beginning of a new era in the human exploration of our solar system,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Just as important are the ground-breaking discoveries about Earth and the universe, as well as our work to inspire and educate a new generation of scientists and engineers, and our efforts to keep the agency on a firm financial footing with its first clean audit in nine years. It’s been a landmark year for the entire NASA team.”
NASA reached several milestones in developing a new U.S. space transportation system that will serve as the cornerstone for America’s future human space exploration efforts.
The first decision came in late May, when NASA Administrator Bolden selected the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the spacecraft that would take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. In addition to exceeding the requirements necessary for deep space travel, it was consistent with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 to retain as much of the current workforce and its critical skills as possible.
In September, Bolden announced the design of a new Space Launch System — a heavy-lift rocket that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before and provide the cornerstone for America’s future human space exploration efforts.
In November, NASA announced it planned to add an unpiloted flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014 to its contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee and make a high-energy re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.
Orion will land off the California coast and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions.
Throughout the year, engineers conducted multiple test firings of the agency’s J-2X engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and performed several Orion water drop tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. In September, NASA and ATK Space Systems successfully completed a two-minute, full-scale test of Development Motor-3, the agency’s largest and most powerful solid rocket motor ever designed for flight.