CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Tuesday, July 4, 2017






As it makes its way through the atmosphere (shown), the capsule is subjected to intense temperature, which burn away the ablative heat shield on board - as it is designed to do. Ablative means that it ‘burns up’ on re-entry to dissipate heat away from the cabin and keep the astronauts safe

Stunning GIF reveals the fiery view seen by astronauts as they re-enter Earth's atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound

  • The return of three astronauts to Earth is shown from inside Soyuz capsule
  • Short clip reveals the capsule's heat shield burning away
  • This shield is burnt on purpose to protect the astronauts inside
  • Temperatures on re-entry reach 1,650°C (3,000°F) as the spacecraft hits the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound
  • The journey time from the ISS to Earth takes a total of 3.5 hours


Returning to Earth from orbit is no easy feat. To do so, spacecraft must endure temperatures of more than 1,650°C (3,000°F) as they hit the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound.
Thankfully, over the years the technique has been refined to a tee; astronauts can get from the ISS to the surface of Earth in just 3.5 hours.
But a GIF has revealed the fiery process that takes place when the manned Soyuz spacecraft first comes into contact with the thick atmosphere - before it makes its daring descent back to Earth.

 
This GIF shows the moment cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky, and astronaut Michael Hopkins, returned to Earth in March this year at the culmination of ISS Expedition 38
Up to three crew members can return to Earth at any one time in one of the Soyuz TMA spacecraft.
This is why the ISS has a crew of six. 
Three people are taken there and back every six months, with crews of three overlapping with each other so that the same crew doesn’t all depart at the same time.
The GIF shows the moment the ablative heat shield of the Soyuz begins to bear the brunt of the temperatures of re-entry.
THE LATEST ISS CREW
On 23 November 2014 a Russian rocket blasted off today to deliver three new crew members to the International Space Station - including Italy's first female astronaut.
Soyuz TMA-15M, holding incoming station commander Terry Virts, with the US space agency Nasa, left the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan.
Also on board for the lift-off at 3am local time (Sunday 9pm GMT) was Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov, with the Russian Federal Space Agency. 
Ablative means that it ‘burns up’ on re-entry to dissipate heat away from the cabin and keep the astronauts safe.
But aside from a small amount of manouevring, there is not much for the astronauts to do during re-entry - except to sit and hope.
'There's not much an astronaut can do as their module re-enters Earth atmosphere but strap in, hold on tight and put their faith in years of proven science and technology,' Ben Biggs, Editor of All About Space Magazine, told MailOnline.
'That can hardly be much consolation though: the temperature on the outside of their high speed spacecraft can be hot enough to melt iron due to friction with the Earth's atmosphere, while the effect of deceleration can be greater than seven times Earth gravity.
'Humans are better able to withstand g-forces perpendicular to the spine, which is why these astronauts are on their backs for re-entry.'


The Soyuz (shown) is actually composed of three elements end-to-end - the Orbital Module (top left), the Descent Module (middle) and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (bottom right) 
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The Soyuz (shown) is actually composed of three elements end-to-end - the Orbital Module (top left), the Descent Module (middle) and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (bottom right)
As it makes its way through the atmosphere (shown), the capsule is subjected to intense temperature, which burn away the ablative heat shield on board - as it is designed to do. Ablative means that it ‘burns up’ on re-entry to dissipate heat away from the cabin and keep the astronauts safe 
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As it makes its way through the atmosphere (shown), the capsule is subjected to intense temperature, which burn away the ablative heat shield on board - as it is designed to do. Ablative means that it ‘burns up’ on re-entry to dissipate heat away from the cabin and keep the astronauts safe
Expedition 38 returned to Earth on 11 March 2014 (shown) in the snowy reaches of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan after a six-month stay aboard the ISS 
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Expedition 38 returned to Earth on 11 March 2014 (shown) in the snowy reaches of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan after a six-month stay aboard the ISS
Here the three-man crew of the mission are seen on the ground after exiting from the Descent Module. Their journey back to Earth lasted about 3.5 hours in total 
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Here the three-man crew of the mission are seen on the ground after exiting from the Descent Module. Their journey back to Earth lasted about 3.5 hours in total
The Soyuz is actually composed of three elements end-to-end - the Orbital Module, the Descent Module and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module.
The crew occupies the central part, while the other two are jettisoned before re-entry and burn up in the atmosphere.
On their way to the station the Orbital Module provides additional living space, and also contains the systems required to dock with the ISS, including a hatch and docking mechanism.
The Instrumentation/Propulsion Module, as its name might suggest, allows the spacecraft to rendezvous with the station after launch.
On returning to Earth, it places the Soyuz into a deorbit burn, an angle of entry that will bring it back to Earth, before being jettisoned.
However, in the Descent Module the crew also have a guidance, navigation and control system - so they do have some aspect of control when they have separated from the other two elements.
Conditions inside the module can be quite cramped. The astronauts have some degree of control over the spacecraft, but otherwise must trust the science and technology on board 
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Conditions inside the module can be quite cramped. The astronauts have some degree of control over the spacecraft, but otherwise must trust the science and technology on board
Just a split second before landing, six solid-fueled soft-landing engines fire (shown), dampening the impact by decreasing the speed to just 9.8ft (three metres) per second 
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Just a split second before landing, six solid-fueled soft-landing engines fire (shown), dampening the impact by decreasing the speed to just 9.8ft (three metres) per second
During the re-entry procedure, the Soyuz begins by undocking from the ISS and then performing a 15-second separation burn.
When it is 7.5 miles (12km) behind the ISS, it begins the deorbit burn, which slows it down by about 375 feet (115 metres) per second.
Then, three hours after undocking and just minutes from re-entry, it pyrotechnically separates the Orbital and Instrumentation/Propulsion module.
This begins the fiery entry process, during which the crew are unable to communicate with ground control.
Then, at a height of about 5.6 miles (nine kilometres), a drogue chute slows the Soyuz from 785 to 295 feet (240 to 90 metres) per second.
The main chute then deploys at an altitude of 4.6 miles (7.5km), slowing the Soyuz to 20 feet (six metres) per second.
Next, the heat shield is jettisoned, exposing the underside of the spacecraft, which contains the landing engines.
And finally, just a split second before landing, six solid-fueled soft-landing engines fire, dampening the impact by decreasing the speed to just three metres per second.
Shock abosrbers in the seats also dampen the landing for the astronauts on board, before the entry module hatch is opened and they climb out to the landing crew awaiting them.

The Blackbird set for a hypersonic overhaul as Lockheed Martin reveals new details of its Mach 6 SR-72

  • SR-72 will be a strike and reconnaissance aircraft that tops Mach 6
  • Believed the first prototype craft could take off as early as next year 



Lockheed Martin has revealed its secretive Skunk Works unit is beginning to build the first flight demonstrator of a radical hypersonic update of the long-retired Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.
The firm has been working on the project since the early 2000s, but has now revealed progress on the project is gaining pace.
It says the SR-72 hypersonic plane will be a strike and reconnaissance aircraft that tops Mach 6.

Lockheed Martin posted an artist's impression of the craft to its website, with the caption 'The Skunk Works hypersonic design – an aircraft developed to execute Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and strike missions at speeds up to Mach 6.'
Lockheed Martin posted an artist's impression of the craft to its website, with the caption 'The Skunk Works hypersonic design – an aircraft developed to execute Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and strike missions at speeds up to Mach 6.'
'We've been saying hypersonics is two years away for the last 20 years, but all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with Darpa and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our warfighters as soon as possible,' Rob Weiss, Lockheed Martin's executive vice president and general manager for Advanced Development Programs, told Aviation Week.
'I can't give you any timelines or any specifics on the capabilities,' he said.
'It is all very sensitive. 
'Some of our adversaries are moving along these lines pretty quickly and it is important we stay quiet about what is going on. 
'We can acknowledge the general capability that's out there, but any program specifics are off limits.'
Hypersonic technologies, including a combined cycle propulsion system that blends a rocket engine and a supersonic jet engine, are now sufficiently advanced to allow the planned SR-72 project to begin, it is believed. 

THE BLACKBIRD SR-71 

The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career.
On July 28 1976 it broke the world record for absolute altitude - reaching 85,069 feet.

  • That same day a different SR-71 set an absolute speed record of 2,193.2mph - a record it still holds today.
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  • The plane was so fast that it could outrun surface-to-air missiles as it traveled close to the edge of space at about 85,000 feet, or about 16 miles above the earth. 

  • On July 28 1976 it broke the world record for absolute altitude - reaching 85,069 feet
    On July 28 1976 it broke the world record for absolute altitude - reaching 85,069 feet
    If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outfly the missile.
    The plane flew so high above the Earth's surface that Joersz said there was no real sense of speed at all with the clouds so far below. 
    A total of 32 of the aircraft were built which flew from 1964 to 1999; 12 were lost in accidents, but none were shot down by enemies. 
    Lockheed's previous reconnaissance aircraft was the relatively slow U-2, designed for the CIA.
    The plane's titanium skin was capable of surviving temperatures up to 482C
    The plane's titanium skin was capable of surviving temperatures up to 482C
    In late 1957, the CIA approached the defense contractor Lockheed to build an undetectable spy plane and within ten months they had come up with the design for the Blackbird.
    Flying at 80,000 ft meant that crews could not use standard masks, which would not provide enough oxygen above 43,000 ft, so specialist protective pressurised suits were made. 
    The plane's titanium skin was capable of surviving temperatures up to 482C.

    Testing of an 'optionally piloted' flight research vehicle (FRV) could happen as early as next year.
    It is expected to be around the same size as an F-22 and powered by a full-scale, combined cycle engine.
    Envisioned as an unmanned aircraft, the SR-72 would fly at speeds up to Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound, Lockheed Martin has said previously.
    At this speed, the aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.
    'Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,' said Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics. 
    'Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. 
    'The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.'
    Marillyn Hewson said Lockheed's engineers are on the verge of making technology such as scramjet engineers, which have been talked about for years, a reality. This illustration shows the design for the SR-72's engine. The plane will also have a  'warm structure'  that will heat up during flight
    Marillyn Hewson said Lockheed's engineers are on the verge of making technology such as scramjet engineers, which have been talked about for years, a reality. This illustration shows the design for the SR-72's engine. The plane will also have a  'warm structure'  that will heat up during flight
    Lockheed Martin posted an artist's impression of the craft to its website, with the caption 'The Skunk Works hypersonic design – an aircraft developed to execute Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and strike missions at speeds up to Mach 6.' 
    Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne have been working together since 2006 on work to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a scramjet to power an aircraft with a combined cycle propulsion system from standstill to Mach 6
    'The combined cycle work is still occurring and obviously a big breakthrough in the air-breathing side of hypersonics is the propulsion system,' Weiss revealed.

    The Blackbird takes flight from Edwards Air Force Base


     
     
     
     

    'The technology of the 'air breather has been matured and work is continuing on those capabilities to demonstrate that they are ready to go and be fielded,' he adds. 
    It comes as Boeing has pledged to make hypersonic passengers planes a reality - and says they could be operating within a decade.
    'I think in the next decade or two you're going to see them become a reality,' Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CNBC at the Paris Air Show.
    However, he admitted the firm still has to prove there are enough people who could afford tickets to make it worthwhile.
    'I think in the next decade or two you're going to see them become a reality,' Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CNBC at the Paris Air Show.  He believes the firm's work on experimental craft such as the firm's work on the X-51 Waverider (pictured) would also prove invaluable.
    'I think in the next decade or two you're going to see them become a reality,' Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CNBC at the Paris Air Show.  He believes the firm's work on experimental craft such as the firm's work on the X-51 Waverider (pictured) would also prove invaluable.
    'There is still work to do on closing the business case to make sense for our customers,' said Muilenburg, who said the firm's work on the X-51 Waverider would also prove invaluable. 
    'But we see future innovations where you could connect around the world in about two hours.'
    Hypersonic jets, flying at up to Mach 5, or 3,800 mph, could allow passengers to dramatically cut journey times.
    For example, a commercial flight from New York to Shanghai currently takes about 15 hours - but at hypersonic speeds, could take two.
    NASA recently said it is is seeking proposals for the development of its supersonic X-plane, with plans to begin work as early as next year.
    The Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) low-boom flight demonstrator aims to produce a much lower 'boom' than other supersonic aircraft, and NASA is hoping to see the first flight tests take place in 2021, according to Aviation Week.
    Lockheed Martin has been working on the preliminary design, with hopes to move on to build the demonstrator, but NASA has now opened the door for other companies to submit their own designs as well.
    NASA reveals plans for supersonic passenger X-Plane


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    Boeing recently won a military contract to build a 'big bother' for the secretive X-37b spaceplane.
    Boeing declined to say how much it will put into development of the vehicle, which it calls Phantom Express, with DARPA, which is an agency under the U.S. Department of Defense.
    About the size of a business jet, Phantom Express will take off like a rocket, boost itself beyond the atmosphere and release an expendable second-stage rocket and satellite, then turn around and land like an airplane on a runway.
    The project, known as XS-1, is expected to debut in 2020, and military bosses claim it will 'bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space.'
    NASA is backing plans to return to supersonic flight, with its Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) low-boom flight demonstrator aims to produce a much lower 'boom' than other supersonic aircraft, and NASA is hoping to see the first flight tests take place in 2021
    NASA is backing plans to return to supersonic flight, with its Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) low-boom flight demonstrator aims to produce a much lower 'boom' than other supersonic aircraft, and NASA is hoping to see the first flight tests take place in 2021

    HOW THE PHANTOM EXPRESS WILL MAKE SPACE AFFORDABLE

    The XS-1 program envisions a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, roughly the size of a business jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. 
    The vehicle would be launched with no external boosters, powered solely by self-contained cryogenic propellants. 

     

    Once it reaches the correct altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 3,000-pound satellite to polar orbit
    Upon reaching a high suborbital altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 3,000-pound satellite to polar orbit. 
    The reusable first stage would then bank and return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours. 
    Boeing to build the US military's hypersonic space plane


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    Despite the skepticism of supersonic and hypersonic planes being commercially viable, there is a resurgence in interest in ultra-fast airliners.
    Colorado-based Boom Technology is meeting with prospective partners and clients at the Paris Air Show. Boom is developing a 55-seat supersonic jet it hopes to sell to airlines and have in service by early next decade.

    THE PLANE THAT FLEW PASSENGERS FROM LONDON TO NY IN THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS

    Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet that was operated until 2003. 
    It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 k per hour at cruise altitude) and could seat 92 to 128 passengers.
    It was first flown in 1969, but needed further tests to establish it as viable as a commercial aircraft.
    Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years.
    The inability to turn a profit on supersonic flights between the U.S. and Europe is what ultimately killed the Concorde.
    The inability to turn a profit on supersonic flights between the U.S. and Europe is what ultimately killed the Concorde.
    It is one of only two supersonic transports to have been operated commercially. 
    The other is the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which ran for a much shorter period of time before it was grounded and retired due to safety and budget issues.
    Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty. Concorde's name, meaning harmony or union, reflects the cooperation on the project between the United Kingdom and France. 
    In the UK, any or all of the type are known simply as 'Concorde', without an article. 
    Twenty aircraft were built including six prototypes and development aircraft.
    Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA) each received seven aircraft. 
    The research and development failed to make a profit and the two airlines bought the aircraft at a huge discount.
    It was first flown in 1969, but needed further tests to establish it as viable as a commercial aircraft.
    It was first flown in 1969, but needed further tests to establish it as viable as a commercial aircraft.
    Concorde was retired in 2003 due to a general downturn in the commercial aviation industry after the type's only crash in 2000, the September 11 attacks in 2001, and a decision by Airbus, the successor to Aérospatiale and BAC, to discontinue maintenance support.
    The inability to turn a profit on supersonic flights between the U.S. and Europe is what ultimately killed the Concorde.
    British Airways and Air France flew the Concorde for more than 30 years and never made money shuttling a limited number of passengers across the Atlantic in roughly 3½ hours.
    The Concorde made its last flight in 2003.Boeing recently revealed a project to develop passengers planes that don't need a pilot and aims to test some of the technology next year.
    Jetliners can already take off, cruise and land using their onboard flight computers and the number of pilots on a standard passenger plane has dropped to two from three over the years. 
    The idea may seem far-fetched but with self-flying drones available for less than $1,000 (£774), 'the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available,' said Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice president of product development. 
    Boeing is looking to test the technology in a  simulator this summer and use it in real aircraft from next year, Mike Sinnett, vice president of product development said (stock image)
    Boeing is looking to test the technology in a simulator this summer and use it in real aircraft from next year, Mike Sinnett, vice president of product development said (stock image)

    SELF-DRIVING PLANES

    Jetliners can already take off, cruise and land using their onboard flight computers and the number of pilots on a standard passenger plane has dropped to two from three over the years.
    Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice president, a pilot himself, plans to test the technology in a cockpit simulator this summer.
    He said he will 'fly on an airplane next year some artificial intelligence that makes decisions that pilots would make'.
    Airlines are among those backing the idea, in part to deal with a projected need for 1.5 million pilots over the next 20 years as global demand for air travel continues to grow.Mr Sinnett, a pilot himself, plans to test the technology in a cockpit simulator this summer.
    He said he will 'fly on an airplane next year some artificial intelligence that makes decisions that pilots would make'.
    Self-flying aircraft would need to meet the safety standards of air travel, which had its safest year in 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network, the world's biggest plane maker said in a briefing ahead of the Paris Airshow.
    They would also need to convince regulators who don't yet know how to certify such planes.
    'I have no idea how we're going to do that,' Mr Sinnett said. 
    'But we're studying it right now and we're developing those algorithms', he said. 
    Airlines are among those backing the idea, in part to deal with a projected need for 1.5 million pilots over the next 20 years as global demand for air travel continues to grow.
    But a self-flying plane would need to be able land safely as Captain Chesley Sullenberger did in the 'Miracle on the Hudson,' Mr Sinnett said.
    'If it can't, then we can't go there.'
    Boeing is also inching closer to creating its next new aircraft to plug a gap in its product line, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a separate briefing
    Boeing is also inching closer to creating its next new aircraft to plug a gap in its product line, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a separate briefing
    A U.S. Airways plane hit a flock of geese shortly after taking off from New York in 2009 knocking out its engines but Sullenberger managed to glide the Airbus A320 to a safe landing on the Hudson River, saving all 150 passengers on board. 
    Boeing is also inching closer to creating its next new aircraft to plug a gap in its product line between its best-selling narrow-bodied 737 and its larger 787 Dreamliner. 
    It aims to bring the new jet to customers around 2025.
    After in-depth talks with nearly 60 customers it concluded that current wide-body planes have too much range for most of the routes narrow-body planes fly, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a separate briefing.
    'This is a market that cannot be served by narrow-bodies - not by ours or our competitors'' he said, referring to rival Airbus. 
    'It can be served by wide-bodies, the question is can it be more efficiently served by a targeted airplane?' 















































    Nasa's new Orion spacecraft made a 'bull's-eye' splashdown in the Pacific today following a dramatic test flight that took it twice around Earth in 4.5 hours.
    The spacecraft, which could someday take humans to Mars, made a fiery 20,000 mph (32,000 kph) re-entry into the planet enduring temperatures of 2,200°C (4,000°F).
    Cameras fitted to the rocket and capsule captured the entire mission - giving an unprecedented 'Orion's-eye' view from inside the capsule that could on day take man to Mars. 
    Scroll down for videos
    Looking home: Cameras onboard the Orion capsule took this stunning snap of the Earth during re-entry. Flames show the incredible heat the capsule was subjected to, as it hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
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    Looking home: Cameras onboard the Orion capsule took this stunning snap of the Earth during re-entry. Flames show the incredible heat the capsule was subjected to, as it hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
    liftoff
    booster
    Cameras onboard Orion captured its entire mission, from blast off (left) to its climb into orbit (right)
    Separation: Three protective panels encasing the Orion service module fell away from the Orion Space Capsule just minutes after launch
    Boosters separated (left), soon followed by casings that protected the capsule during take off (right)
    An astronaut's eye view: A camera mounted insde the capsule looking out a windows captured this stunning image of Earth
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    An astronaut's eye view: A camera mounted insde the capsule looking out a windows captured this stunning image of Earth
    MISSION STATS
    During the uncrewed test, Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt, where it experienced periods of intense radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth.
    The spacecraft hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth's atmosphere.
    If astronauts had been onboard Orion, they would have experienced a g-force of 8.2 - nearly twice that generated when Soyuz capsules return from the International Space Station.
    Orion hit its target point 275 miles (442 km) west of Baja, California, and achieved at least one record: flying farther and faster than any capsule built for humans since the Apollo moon program.
    'There's your new spacecraft, America,' Mission Control commentator Rob Navias said as the Orion capsule neared the water.
    He called the journey 'the most perfect flight you could ever imagine.'
    The capsule reached a peak altitude more than 14 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station. No spacecraft designed for astronauts had gone so far since Apollo 17, 42 years ago.
    Nasa needed to send Orion that high in order to set the crew module up for a rapid and fiery entry.
    That was considered the most critical part of the entire flight - testing the largest of its kind heat shield for survival before humans climb aboard.
    In 11 minutes, Orion slowed from to 20 mph (32km/h) at splashdown - its final descent aided by eight parachutes deployed in sequence. 
    Earth shrank from view through Orion's capsule window during its trip out to space, and stunning images were relayed back home. Its return was recorded by an unmanned drone flying over the recovery zone, providing more spectacular views.
    Helicopters then relayed images of the crew module bobbing in the water.
    Three of the five air bags deployed properly, enough to keep the capsule floating upright.
    'Today's flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,' said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
    'The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.'
    The capsule will now be driven back to Kennedy on the back of a truck - and officials said they hoped it would arrive by Christmas.
    Rapid entry: Three main parachutes brought Orion safely back to Earth after its flight (pictured). If astronauts had been on board Orion as it plunged back they would have experienced a g-force of 8.2 - nearly twice that generated when Soyuz capsules return from the ISS
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    Rapid entry: Three main parachutes brought Orion safely back to Earth after its flight (pictured). If astronauts had been on board Orion as it plunged back they would have experienced a g-force of 8.2 - nearly twice that generated when Soyuz capsules return from the ISS


     
    Back to Earth: After two perfect laps around the planet, Orion has come back down to Earth with a huge splash in the Pacific Ocean
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    Back to Earth: After two perfect laps around the planet, Orion has come back down to Earth with a huge splash in the Pacific Ocean
    There were a number of key moments throughout the flight (shown in diagram), designed to test the capability of Orion, all of which it passed without a hitch. In total the flight lasted about four and a half hours
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    There were a number of key moments throughout the flight (shown in diagram), designed to test the capability of Orion, all of which it passed without a hitch. In total the flight lasted about four and a half hours
    The US Navy was there to recover the spacecraft 630 miles (1,013km) southwest of San Diego, where it will be brought to land.
    All the parachutes did their job, but only two of the eight were recovered.
    The agency reported some positive results, saying onboard computers were unaffected by high radiation in space
    WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
    The U.S. Navy pulled up in a pair of ships to recover the spacecraft and transport it to San Diego, 630 miles away.
    Orion ended up just 1½ miles from the predicted splashdown spot.
    Only two of the parachutes could be recovered.
    Once ashore, Orion will be transported by truck back to Cape Canaveral, just in time for Christmas.
    It is supposed to soar again in 2017 in a launch abort test, followed by a second Orion heading to space in 2018 aboard the megarocket under development by NASA.
    Officials expect it will be at least seven years from now — 2021 — before Orion carries people, given present budget constraints.
    'We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion's design going forward,' said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager.
    'In the coming weeks and months we'll be taking a look at that invaluable information and applying lessons learned to the next Orion spacecraft already in production for the first mission atop the Space Launch System rocket.'
    A fifth of the heat shield burned away during re-entry as temperatures reached 2,200°C (4,000°F) - twice as hot as molten lava. However, that is only half as hot as the spacecraft will get when returning from the moon and entering the atmosphere at 20 per cent greater velocity.
    Eleven parachutes, deployed in sequences, slowed the spacecraft down until it was travelling at just 20mph by the time it made a 'bulls-eye' splashdown in the Pacific.
    It follows a near-perfect test-flight earlier today. Riding atop a fountain of fire, the 24-story-tall Orion spacecraft soared above the Atlantic Ocean at 12.05 GMT (07.05 ET), punching through partly cloudy skies.
    'The star of the day is Orion,' said Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden, back for the second morning in a row. He called it 'day one of the Mars era.'
    From 20,000 mph to zero: Three of the five airbags on board fully deployed, one partially deployed and the other didn't seem to deploy. However, these were enough to keep the spacecraft upright
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    From 20,000 mph to zero: Three of the five airbags on board fully deployed, one partially deployed and the other didn't seem to deploy. However, these were enough to keep the spacecraft upright
    On target: Orion splashed down at its target point 275 miles (442 km) west of Baja, California while travelling at around 20mph (32km/h)
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    On target: Orion splashed down at its target point 275 miles (442 km) west of Baja, California while travelling at around 20mph (32km/h)
    Congratulations to @NASA on the flawless Orion flight, as well as to program prime contractors @LockheedMartin and @Boeing!
    — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2014
    On Mars at the moment there are currently two operational rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, and Nasa hopes one day astronauts will join them on the red planet. Curiosity tweeted its support for Orion, saying: 'We're one step closer to bootprints next to these tracks'
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    On Mars at the moment there are currently two operational rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, and Nasa hopes one day astronauts will join them on the red planet. Curiosity tweeted its support for Orion, saying: 'We're one step closer to bootprints next to these tracks' 
    The maiden launch of the Orion spacecraft was postponed yesterday after a technical fault, a stray boat and poor weather conditions hampered efforts to blast into space.
    However, today's test flight and splashdown were described by Nasa as 'picture perfect'.
    As the rocket roared into orbit, cameras streamed video showing dramatic pictures of the two side boosters falling away and the curved edge of the Earth.
    Orion reached a peak altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 km) on its second lap around the planet, giving the capsule the necessary momentum for a scorchingly high-speed re-entry over the Pacific.
    The spacecraft also travelled through Earth's Van Allen radiation belts that protect the planet from charged particles. Scientists say this will show how well equipment tolerates radiation like that experienced on the long journey to Mars.
    Just three minutes into the launch, the spacecraft was already travelling at five times the speed of sound. But Orion would ultimately travel much faster.
    Engineers wanted to see how the heat shield - the largest of its kind ever built - held up when Orion came back through the atmosphere travelling 20,000 mph (32,200 kph) and enduring temperature of 2,200°C (4,000°F).
    WHAT HAPPENED DURING ORION'S BLAZING DESCENT BACK DOWN TO EARTH? 
    Four hours and five minutes after launching, Orion exited the intense radiation of the Van Allen belts, its cameras were turned on and it prepared for re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
    This was the major test for the spacecraft; Nasa needed to know the heat shield could cope with the extreme condtions of re-entry when returning from future missions to the moon, an asteroid or Mars.
    Eight and a half minutes after leaving the belts, Orion reached the upper limits of Earth's atmosphere and began to generate heat as it passed through at about 20,000mph (32,000 km/h), with its thrusters maintaining control and keeping its heat shield pointing down.
    Just a few seconds later, as planned, the flight control team lost contact with Orion for about 2.5 minutes as a superheated plasma formed around the capsule, blocking signals in and out.
    Orion then experienced the hottest period of its return through the atmosphere with its heat shield reaching temperatures approaching 2,200°C (4,000°F), twice as hot as molten lava, and g-forces of about eight Gs.
    Heading through the atmosphere also slowed the spacecraft drastically, from 20,000mph (32,000 km/h) to just 300mph (480 km/h).
    The spacecraft passed this test without a hitch. After travelling through the atmosphere for more than four minutes, the spacecraft jettisoned its forward bay cover.
    This had on it the tiles that protect Orion from the heat of re-entry. The tiles dissipate heat away from the spacecraft and ensure the temperatures stay habitable.
    The forward bay cover had three parachutes of its own that lowered it to the Pacific Ocean safely.
    A couple of seconds after it jettisoned the cover, Orion deployed two drogue parachutes that slowed the spacecraft, which was travelling at 300mph (480 km/h) at the time.
    A minute later, three pilot parachutes then pulled the three massive main parachutes out - which would cover the size of a football field.
    These slowed Orion from about 100mph (160km/h) to less than 20mph (30km/h).
    And finally, four hours, 23 minutes and 29 seconds after launching, Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean 275 miles (442 km) west of Baja, California.
    Airbags deployed to keep the spacecraft upright, in a position known as 'Stable 1'. Stable 2 would have meant it was upside down, while Stable 3 would mean it is on its side.
    Three of the five airbags on board fully deployed, one partially deployed and the other didn't seem to deploy. However, these were enough to keep the spacecraft upright.
    This is important for future missions, as if it does not stay upright then getting the astronauts out is much more difficult, and potentially dangerous.
    Orion ultimately will be pulled to the deck of the ship USS Anchorage by a combined Nasa and US Navy team, bringing to an end the mission that has taken the first step towards Mars.
    Safe landing: Eleven parachutes, deployed in sequences, slowed the spacecraft down until it was travelling at just 20mph by the time it made a 'bulls-eye' splashdown in the Pacific
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    Safe landing: Eleven parachutes, deployed in sequences, slowed the spacecraft down until it was travelling at just 20mph by the time it made a 'bulls-eye' splashdown in the Pacific
    On hand: US Navy ships were waiting to retrieve Orion and return it to land after its 4.5 hour journey twice around Earth
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    On hand: US Navy ships were waiting to retrieve Orion and return it to land after its 4.5 hour journey twice around Earth


     
    First step towards Mars: Orion's Delta IV Heavy rocket clears the service tower that sits alongside the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The high-stakes test flight is meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars
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    First step towards Mars: Orion's Delta IV Heavy rocket clears the service tower that sits alongside the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The high-stakes test flight is meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars
    This incredible picture taken by astronaut Rex Walheim from the ground shows the moment Orion 'punched a hole' through the clouds of Earth on its way to space after launching on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket
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    This incredible picture taken by astronaut Rex Walheim from the ground shows the moment Orion 'punched a hole' through the clouds of Earth on its way to space after launching on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket
    Buzzing: The atmosphere at Kennedy Space Center was reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days. After more than three years since the last shuttle flight, Nasa reveled in all the attention
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    Buzzing: The atmosphere at Kennedy Space Center was reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days. After more than three years since the last shuttle flight, Nasa reveled in all the attention
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    Leaving Earth: Riding atop a fountain of fire, the 24-story-tall Orion spacecraft soared above the Atlantic Ocean at 12.05 GMT (07.05 ET) today
    Stunning: Orion was pictured here just hours before launch. The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021, according to Nasa
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    Stunning: Orion was pictured here just hours before launch. The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021, according to Nasa
    The atmosphere at Kennedy Space Center was reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days. After more than three years since the last shuttle flight, Nasa reveled in all the attention.
    Launch commentator Mike Curie fed the enthusiasm in the gathered crowds, calling it 'the dawn of Orion in a new era of American space exploration.'
    Mark Geyer, Orion programme manager at Nasa, said: 'It was very good to see how well the rocket did its job and very exciting to see it go up into space.
    'Now it is actually doing the job it was designed to do. We still have a long way to go with this mission but everything is going great.
    'We had a few key tests to run in the first six minutes of the flight that were very important for us.
    'We jettisoned the service module fairings which are there to reduce mass on the rest of Orion. This is a critical event for these pyrotechnic systems and it went perfectly.'
    A NEW DAWN OF SPACE EXPLORATION: ORION'S JOURNEY TO SPACE AS IT HAPPENED
    Down to Earth: Orion had a rapid re-entry into the atmosphere at speeds close to 32,000km/h (20,000mph), according to Nasa
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    Down to Earth: Orion had a rapid re-entry into the atmosphere at speeds close to 32,000km/h (20,000mph), according to Nasa
    7.01am EST All launch teams give the 'GO' for liftoff.
    7.05am EST Liftoff. Orion's Delta IV Heavy rocket blasts off from the launchpad in a cloud of smoke and flame.
    7.06am EST Nasa mission control reports that Orion has cleared the service tower as the swing arms connected to the rocket swiveled backward out of its way.
    7.07am EST Orion enters the area of maximum dynamic pressure, the point when the aerodynamic forces of launch are at their greatest.
    7.07am EST The Delta IV Heavy and Orion go supersonic.
    7.09am EST The port and starboard booster rockets burn through their entire fuel supplies and separate four minutes and 10 seconds into the flight.
    7.10am EST The second stage of the Delta IV rocket takes over as the first stage falls away five minutes and 43 seconds after launch.
    7.12am EST Four panels that provided structural support around Orion's service module through the early phases of launch are jettisoned.
    7.12am EST Shortly after the white tower and dome structure over the Orion capsule, known as the Launch Abort System, fired rockets to pull away from the rocket to leave Orion exposed. In future manned missions this will provide an emergency escape mechanism during launch.
    7.19am EST Orion reaches 15,000 mph as it soars towards the start of its orbit.
    7.23am EST The second stage engine of the Delta IV cuts off, leaving the spacecraft to coast for 97 minutes towards its first orbit of the Earth. During this time flight controllers evaluate telemetry data.
    7.24am EST Orion and the second stage rocket enter gentle roll to help distribute heat around the spacecraft as it begins orbiting the Earth.
    8.56am EST Orion finishes its first orbit of the Earth.
    9.01am EST The second stage rocket reignites to push Orion out to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth. It creates 24,750 pounds and the burn lasts for four minutes and 42 seconds.
    9.05am EST The second stage engine cuts off but remains attached along with the service module until three hours 9 minutes into the mission.
    9.11am EST Orion enters the lower Van Allen belt, the area of space around the Earth that contains intense levels of radiation, after two hours and five minutes of flight.
    9.26am EST Orion leaves the Van Allen Belt. Cameras on board were turned off to protect them from the high energy radiation, which will pose a significant threat to astronauts leaving Earth on future missions to Mars or an asteroid. Orion has been packed with 1,200 sensors to measure conditions inside the capsule during the test flight to see what it would be like for humans.
    9.37am EST Orion reaches more than 2,100 miles above Earth as it travels out towards its peak altitude
    9.56am EST US Navy and Nasa recovery teams deploy off the coast of California in preparation for splashdown as Orion crosses the 3,000-mile altitude mark.
    10.13am EST Orion reaches 3,604.2 miles above the Earth and begins heading back towards the surface at 20,000 mph. The capsule encounters more than eight times the force of gravity (8.2 Gs) during re-entry.
    10.13am EST Nasa flight controllers activate the spacecraft's reaction control system thrusters to steer the spacecraft as it descends.
    10.23am EST Orion and the Delta IV Heavy second stage rocket adjusted their positioning so the crew module can separate safely.
    10.29am EST The Delta IV rocket and Orion's service module separate, leaving Orion's crew module on its own for the first time. On board computers make adjustments to control its flight path as it prepares to begin its re-entry.
    'Picture perfect': All stages of the launch went to plan. Nasa launch commentator Mike Curie fed the enthusiasm in the gathered crowds, calling it 'the dawn of Orion in a new era of American space exploration'
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    'Picture perfect': All stages of the launch went to plan. Nasa launch commentator Mike Curie fed the enthusiasm in the gathered crowds, calling it 'the dawn of Orion in a new era of American space exploration'
    View from Orion: The unmanned spacecraft blasted off in a cloud of smoke on a historic test-flight to orbit the Earth twice
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    Things soon heated up as Orion made its way high into Earth's atmosphere
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    View from Orion: The unmanned spacecraft blasted off in a cloud of smoke on a historic test-flight to orbit the Earth twice (left). Things soon heated up as it made its way high into Earth's atmosphere (right)
    Fired up: Space enthusiasts gather to watch the historic launch. They had come back for a second day, after yesterday's launch was aborted
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    Fired up: Space enthusiasts gather to watch the historic launch. They had come back for a second day, after yesterday's launch was aborted
    Orion is being developed alongside the world's most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is due to make its maiden launch in 2018 or 2019.
    Together, SLS and Orion will allow Nasa to send humans into deep space to destinations such as Mars.
    For this launch, Orion was strapped to a Delta IV Heavy rocket - currently the largest launch system in the world. Three RS-68 engines produced about two million pounds of thrust at lift-off.
    Five and a half minutes after launch, at an altitude of around 200 miles (320km), fuel ran out on both the Delta IV's main and booster engines.
    A couple of seconds later, the entire bottom end - or the 'first stage' of the rocket - detached, while the second stage engine ignited to take Orion to a higher orbit.
    The upper stage's protective fairings were then jettisoned, along with the launch abort system, which is designed to protect the astronauts in the case of an emergency during launch by carrying the capsule to safety.
    THE FAULT WITH ORION'S FUEL VALVES AND HOW NASA FIXED THEM BY GIVING THEM A 'WAGGLE'
    The first attempt to launch the Orion Space Capsule on Thursday had to be abandoned after a rogue boat in the area, wind gusts and a faulty valve led the spacecraft to miss its launch window.
    Automatic fault detection systems picked up a fault with the fill and drain valves in the fuel tanks of the Delta IV Heavy rocket, causing the countdown to be placed on hold.
    Overnight Nasa engineers examined the rocket and found that the valves had malfunctioned due to the super-cold temperatures they were exposed to from the liquid hydrogen fuel.
    The tanks were kept at -252°C (-423°F) to keep both the hydrogen and oxygen propellants in liquid form before they are combined and ignited with explosive force.
    Exposed to these temperatures the valves essentially froze shut, leading to the £236m ($370 million) launch being postponed until Friday.
    Nasa said that on Friday it implemented a procedure to open and close the valves several times to keep them from seizing up.
    A spokesman told Mail Online: 'Managers and engineers determined that the fill and drain valves, which had been immersed in liquid hydrogen for more than two hours, became sluggish when subjected to the super-cold -423 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.
    'After diagnosing the issue, a procedure was implemented today to open and close the valves several times to ensure they did not become sluggish.
    'The plan worked and all the valves performed flawlessly today.'
    Nasa's new Orion spacecraft streaked into orbit Friday on a high-stakes test flight meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars
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    Nasa's new Orion spacecraft streaked into orbit Friday on a high-stakes test flight meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars
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    A new dawn: Nasa's new Orion spacecraft streaked into orbit Friday on a high-stakes test flight meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars
    Here astronauts Rex Walheim (left), Jack Fischer and Cady Coleman watch from mission control as Orion made its way back to Earth
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    Here astronauts Rex Walheim (left), Jack Fischer and Cady Coleman watch from mission control as Orion made its way back to Earth
    Delayed: Orion was set to launch at 12.05 GMT (07:05 local time) yesterday, but wind gusts temporarily delayed lift-off with less than four minutes left in the countdown
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    Delayed: Orion was set to launch at 12.05 GMT (07:05 local time) yesterday, but wind gusts temporarily delayed lift-off with less than four minutes left in the countdown
    Ambition: The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021; a mission to an asteroid is on the space agency's radar sometime in the 2020s and Mars, the grand prize, in the 2030s
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    Ambition: The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021; a mission to an asteroid is on the space agency's radar sometime in the 2020s and Mars, the grand prize, in the 2030s
    Under pressure: The launch gave engineers the opportunity to check the performance of Orion's critical heat shield, which experience temperatures in excess of 2,200°C (4,000°F)
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    Under pressure: The launch gave engineers the opportunity to check the performance of Orion's critical heat shield, which experience temperatures in excess of 2,200°C (4,000°F)
    A view from space: Astronauts onboard the International Space Station watch the launch of Orion from their lofty vantage point above Earth
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    A view from space: Astronauts onboard the International Space Station watch the launch of Orion from their lofty vantage point above Earth
    Looking back: On-board cameras captured Orion's first view of the Earth as it began a slow roll to regulate temperatures during its orbit
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    Looking back: On-board cameras captured Orion's first view of the Earth as it began a slow roll to regulate temperatures during its orbit
    After two hours, and one orbit of Earth, the second-stage rocket was ignited again, moving Orion up to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 km).
    This is 15 times the distance to the ISS and caused Orion to travel through the high-radiation Van Allen Belts.
    At three hours after lift-off, Orion hit its peak altitude and then slowly started its descent back to Earth
    The flight program had been loaded into Orion's computers well in advance, allowing the spacecraft to fly essentially on autopilot.
    It gave engineers the opportunity to check the performance of Orion's critical heat shield, which experienced temperatures in excess of 2,200ºC (4,000°F).
    Its re-entry speed into the atmosphere was close to 20,000mph (32,000km/h) - similar to the speed of the Apollo capsules that returned from the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
    Separation: After launch Orion separated from its service module and the Delta upper stage, and eventually prepared to return to Earth (animation shown)
    Waiting game: News photographers and journalists watched as the sun rose on the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft waiting for lift-off  on the launch pad from the Cape Canveral Air Force Station in Florida
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    Waiting game: News photographers and journalists watched as the sun rose on the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft waiting for lift-off on the launch pad from the Cape Canveral Air Force Station in Florida
    New dawn of space travel: Orion will allow the United States to send its own astronauts into space for the first time since the Space Shuttle
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    New dawn of space travel: Orion will allow the United States to send its own astronauts into space for the first time since the Space Shuttle
    Today's mission is unmanned, but in the future Nasa hopes to use Orion to put astronauts back on the moon by 2020 and take them to Mars in the 2030s
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    Next step: This mission is unmanned, but in the future Nasa hopes to use the Orion craft to send astronauts to an asteroid, and someday Mars
    The spacecraft was rigged with 1,200 sensors to gauge everything from heat to vibration to radiation.
    Before launch, Geyer said: 'We're going to test the riskiest parts of the mission. Ascent, entry and things like fairing separations, Launch Abort System jettison, the parachute, plus the navigation and guidance - all those things are going to be tested.
    'Plus, we'll fly into deep space and test the radiation effects on those systems.'
    A crucial test came when Orion flew through the Van Allen belts, which are two layers of charged particles orbiting around Earth.
    'The ISS would not have to deal with radiation but we will, and so will every vehicle that goes to the moon,' Geyer told the BBC.
    'That's a big issue for the computers. These processors that are now so small - they're great for speed but they're more susceptible to radiation.
    'That's something we have to design for and see how it all behaves.'
    Another key test was on the heat shield on Orion's base, designed to protect the craft from the searing temperatures of atmospheric re-entry.
    It is 16.5ft (five metres) across and is the biggest, most advanced of its kind ever made.
    In this photo provided by NASA, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Jackie Bolden watch as the United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, with NASAís Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)
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    Having a blast: On the left is Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Jackie Bolden, watching as the United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket lifts-off. The right image shows Mac Magee, 11, of Jackson, waving a #Orion sign at cameras
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    Having a blast: On the left is Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Jackie Bolden, watching as the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts-off. The right image shows Mac Magee, 11, of Jackson, waving a #Orion sign at cameras
    What happened after launch? Just minutes after lift-off, the entire bottom end - or the 'first stage' of the rocket -  detached, while the second stage engine ignited to take Orion to a higher orbit
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    What happened after launch? Just minutes after lift-off, the entire bottom end - or the 'first stage' of the rocket -  detached, while the second stage engine ignited to take Orion to a higher orbit
    Flight sequence: Five and a half minutes after launch, at an altitude of around 200 miles (320km), fuel ran out on both the Delta IV's main and booster engines. This triggered a separation which sent Orion into a higher orbit
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    Flight sequence: Five and a half minutes after launch, at an altitude of around 200 miles (320km), fuel ran out on both the Delta IV's main and booster engines. This triggered a separation which sent Orion into a higher orbit
    Test flight: Orion is making two big laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph (32,200 km/h). Pictured is an artist's impression of the Orion craft in orbit
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    Test flight: Orion is making two big laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph (32,200 km/h). Pictured is an artist's impression of the Orion craft in orbit
    Even though it bears a strong resemblance to the Apollo command module that carried astronauts to the moon in the 1960s, it is bristling with the latest technology that makes it markedly different.
    'There's an obvious comparison to draw between this first Orion launch and the first unmanned flight of the Apollo spacecraft on Apollo 4 [in 1967], but there are more differences than similarities,' space historian Amy Teitel told MailOnline.
    'Apollo 4 flew a nearly lunar-ready command and service module, was the first flight of the Saturn V rocket, and demonstrated that both the S-IVB rocket stage and the spacecraft's own engine could ignite in a vacuum.
    'The EFT-1 flight is only testing a spacecraft; it doesn't even have its service module!
    'With Apollo 4, we knew we were going to the moon and it was clear this mission was putting us firmly back on that path after the major setback of the Apollo 1 fire. With Orion, we don't have a clear goal and a firm timeline for this new spacecraft.'
    HOW DOES ORION COMPARE TO APOLLO MODULE THAT TOOK MAN TO THE MOON IN 1969?
    A 'new Apollo'? Orion bears a strong resemblance to the Apollo command module that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969, but it is bristling with the latest technology that makes it markedly different
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    A 'new Apollo'? Orion bears a strong resemblance to the Apollo command module that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969, but it is bristling with the latest technology that makes it markedly different
    The Orion space capsule will enable Nasa to send its own astronauts into space for the first time since the Space Shuttle programme was scrapped.
    But the next-generation vehicle will also herald a new era of space travel as it has been designed to carry humans to land on asteroids and even to other worlds.
    Ultimately Nasa hopes Orion will allow astronauts to make the first manned journey to Mars.
    Perhaps understandably the development of Orion has helped reawaken some of the atmosphere of excitement that surrounded Nasa during the Apollo missions that first landed mankind on the moon.
    But with almost exactly 42 years between the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, which launched on 7 December 1972, and the first flight of Orion, the technology has moved on considerably.
    On the surface the two space capsules look the same - they are cone-shaped, and have a large heat shield to protect the astronauts from the intense conditions during re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.
    However, Orion is larger, capable of carrying four crew members rather than Apollo's three. It will also have to carry far more supplies than Apollo ever did.
    The last Apollo mission saw a two man crew spend just three days on the moon's surface while a mission to an asteroid or to Mars could see astronauts spending up to 450 days in space.
    Like the Apollo Command Module, Orion has a Service Module attached that houses a single large engine, batteries and storage.
    However, Orion will carry a pair of solar arrays to help keep the capsule powered in space - technology that Apollo did not use.
    Orion also uses up-to-date computers, electronics, life support and propulsion systems. The electronics also have a far more sophisticated radiation shielding than the Apollo modules.
    Nasa has also used some hard lessons to improve the heat shield. Measuring 16.5 feet (five metres) across, it is the largest heat shield ever built for a spacecraft and has been covered in a new material called Avcoat.
    Nasa has also improved the parachutes, once used to land the Apollo spacecraft and slow the Space Shuttle, to help Orion land more safely in the water when it splashes down after a mission.
    Final countdown: The Orion capsule sits on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at the launch pad in Florida. Yesterday, it had to await the removal of a boat that had strayed into waters close to the launch site before the first launch could be attempted - before a faulty valve scuppered it
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    Final countdown: The Orion capsule sits on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at the launch pad in Florida. Yesterday, it had to await the removal of a boat that had strayed into waters close to the launch site before the first launch could be attempted - before a faulty valve scuppered it
    Poised: Orion awaits launch in Florida. This was the first attempt to send a spacecraft capable of carrying humans beyond a couple hundred miles above Earth since the Apollo moon mission
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    Poised: Orion awaits launch in Florida. This was the first attempt to send a spacecraft capable of carrying humans beyond a couple hundred miles above Earth since the Apollo moon mission
    But at 11ft (3.6 metres) tall with a 16.5ft (5 metres) base, Orion is much larger than the old-time Apollo capsules, and is designed to carry four astronauts rather than three.
    The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021; a mission to an asteroid is on the space agency's radar sometime in the 2020s and Mars, the grand prize, in the 2030s.
    'We're approaching this as pioneers,' said William Hill of Nasa's exploration systems development office.
    'We're going out to stay eventually. It's many, many decades away, but that's our intent.'
    However, Nasa has yet to develop the technology to carry out manned surface operations on Mars.
    ORION WANTS TO TAKE PEOPLE TO MARS, BUT CAN HUMANS SURVIVE A JOURNEY TO THE RED PLANET?
    Can we survive a trip to Mars? Pictured is the surface of the red planet, as seen by the Viking I Lander
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    Can we survive a trip to Mars? Pictured is the surface of the red planet, as seen by the Viking I Lander
    Scientists hope Orion will return humans to the moon by 2020 and transport the first visitors to Mars in the 2030s.
    But the 140 million-mile (225 million km) journey to Mars will involve extreme hazards threatening the lives of astronauts.
    Space is filled with dangerous radiation that the Earth's atmosphere shields us from. The greatest threat comes from high energy streams of subatomic particles pouring out of the sun that can damage DNA, leading to cancer.
    How big is the radiation risk?
    Nasa's Curiosity Mars rover was hit by 0.66 sieverts of radiation during its 253-day trip to Mars. That's the equivalent of receiving a whole body CT X-ray scan every five or six days.
    Intense bursts of radiation and particles erupting from the sun, in large solar flares or coronal mass ejections, have the power to disrupt electrical equipment and deliver potentially lethal doses. Radiation shielding coating the spacecraft can offer some protection.
    Is there a danger of being hit by a meteorite?
    Big and small rocks are continually flying around the Solar System, millions of which go undetected. On a long journey through space the risk of being hit is not negligible, and even a tiny meteorite could wreak unimaginable damage.
    Bigger objects can be steered around if detected in advance, and Nasa has been developing armour-like materials and double-layer walls to protect against smaller objects.
    How easy is it to land on Mars?
    The answer is, not easy at all, which is why so many Mars missions have failed. Overall the success rate of landing on Mars is only about 50 per cent.
    This is one area where it pays off to have humans on board rather than relying on computers. During the Apollo moon missions, Nasa never lost a single lander, despite some very close shaves. Mars is much more challenging, though, because it has an atmosphere and appreciable gravity.
    How bad is a Mars trip for your health?
    Without gravity, bones become brittle and muscles start to waste away. There is also evidence that gravity affects the way the brain works.
    The astronauts will have to undergo strict exercise regimes to make up for the lack of gravity. Another solution would be to provide at least some degree of artificial gravity by spinning the spacecraft as it travels.
    Psychological health is considered a very imported issue for long distance space travellers. The astronauts will need to be mentally tough to cope with being so far from home in the knowledge that so far out in space there can be no hope of rescue.
    Why go to Mars at all?
    Many experts say only so much can be done with robots. Humans are just so much better at finding and selecting samples, and spotting the unexpected. Others argue that it will inspire children and unite humanity in a common adventure.
    Some say that confining ourselves to a planet with limited resources is simply not an option if the human race is to survive.
    On track: In the months leading up to launch, Orion esd rigorously tested as engineers prepared it for the journey beyond low Earth orbit
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    On track: In the months leading up to launch, Orion esd rigorously tested as engineers prepared it for the journey beyond low Earth orbit
    Recovery: The US Navy and Nasa recovery teams were on station off the cost of California and ready to recover Orion after landing
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    Recovery: The US Navy and Nasa recovery teams were on station off the cost of California and ready to recover Orion after landing
    By comparison, it took eight years from the time President John Kennedy announced his intentions of landing a man on the moon - before John Glenn even became the first American to orbit Earth - to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's lunar bootprints in 1969.
    Given the present budget situation, 'it is what it is,' said Kennedy Space Center's director Robert Cabana, a former astronaut. And the presidential election ahead could bring further delays and uncertainties.
    Lockheed Martin is handling the £236 million ($370 million) test flight, and Nasa will be overseeing its operation.
    Nasa's last trip beyond low-Earth orbit in a vessel built for people was Apollo 17 in December 1972.
    'This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit,' said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development.
    'In a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced. It's thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.'
    Astronaut Rex Waldheim, who flew the last shuttle mission in 2011 and is helping to design Orion's interior systems, told Nasa TV: 'The ultimate destination is Mars. Everybody wants to go to Mars.
    'It's important to go there and establish a presence on another planet so we become a multi-planetary species.'
    He added: 'Now we've turned the corner and Orion is flying, and it's a very exciting time.'
    THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL CARGO BEING CARRIED 3,600 MILES INTO SPACE ON ORION'S FIRST TEST FLIGHT
    Technicians pack bags to be placed into Orion's stowage lockers with items from Sesame Street including a cookie belonging to Cookie Monster, Ernie's rubber duck, Grover's cape and Slimey the Worm
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    Technicians pack bags to be placed into Orion's stowage lockers with items from Sesame Street including a cookie belonging to Cookie Monster, Ernie's rubber duck, Grover's cape and Slimey the Worm
    Nasa packed its Orion space capsule with experiments and sensor designed to measure the conditions inside the vehicle.
    However, also hitching a ride 3,600 miles (5,800km) above Earth were a Captain Kirk toy, a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil and some Sesame Street puppets.
    They are all part of a weird collection of artefacts, celebrity photos and memorabilia that had been placed inside Orion's storage lockers.
    Nasa also placed a tiny sample of lunar soil, along with a fossil from a Tyrannosaurus rex donated by the Denver Science Museum, into the capsule.
    A microchip carrying the names of more than a million people who submitted their names were also carried onboard.
    Lockheed Martin, the main contractor on Orion, worked with the Entertainment Industries Council to collect items from science fiction-related celebrities to place on Orion.
    William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series and is a noted space enthusiast, supplied an action figure of 'Captain Kirk in Environmental Suit'.
    'William Shatner is thrilled to send Kirk back to space and support Orion, while inspiring future generations about space travel,' EIC vice president Skylar Jackson told collectSPACE .
    Director Jon Favreau offered an Iron Man challenge coin while Back to the Future actress Claudia Wells provided signed cast photos and a Delorean time machine model.
    Mayim Bialik, from The Big Bang Theory, also gave pictures of her ancestors. A collection of pins, medals and artworks will also be carried in the Orion lockers.
    Also among the cargo were props from Sesame Street including a cookie belonging to Cookie Monster, Ernie's rubber duck, Oscar the Grouch's pet Slimey the Worm and Grover's cape.
    When they return to Earth they will take prized spots on the long-running television programme in a bid to educate millions of children about space.
    In a statement on its website, Nasa said: 'Together, the artifacts chart humanity's progress and technological advancement as the nation takes a critical step forward on the Journey to Mars.' 
    Carrying commemorative cargo into space, however, is not a new tradition and has been done since the very early age of space flight.
    Nasa's Mercury astronauts carried dimes in their spacesuits while astronauts on the Apollo missions carried photos and specially stamped envelopes.
    The Voyager spacecraft have also carried gold discs featuring sounds of Earth along with a range of other information while the Curiosity rover on Mars carried a penny to calibrate its instruments.
    Orion's batteries were charged up using power from the launch pad as, unlike future operational versions, it does not carry solar panels
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    Orion's batteries were charged up using power from the launch pad as, unlike future operational versions, it does not carry solar panels
    Heavy lifting: The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying Orion burned through 450,000 gallons of hydrogen and oxygen fuel in order to produce  the two million pounds of thrust needed to lift the 815 ton space rocket out of Earth's atmosphere
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    Heavy lifting: The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying Orion burned through 450,000 gallons of hydrogen and oxygen fuel in order to produce the two million pounds of thrust needed to lift the 815 ton space rocket out of Earth's atmosphere
    'This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit,' said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. 'In a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced'
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    'This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit,' said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. 'In a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced'






















































































































































































































































































    When it was launched, it seemed little more than a pipe dream.
    Billionaire inventor Elon Musk unveiled a futuristic plan for a new type of transport that would shoot capsules of passengers along a tube at around the speed of sound.
    Elon Musk, one of the brains behind the online payment system PayPal, and SpaceX claims his solar-powered 'Hyperloop' could herald a revolution in travel.
    The Hyperloop Transportation Technologies design for Elon Musk's Hyperloop. It hopes to produce a technical feasibility study finished in mid-2015.
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    The Hyperloop Transportation Technologies design for Elon Musk's Hyperloop. It hopes to produce a technical feasibility study finished in mid-2015.
    The team believes the system could link the majority of America's major cities together.
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    The team believes the system could link the majority of America's major cities together.
    Scroll down for video
    THE HYPERLOOP: HOW IT WORKS
    Inside the tubes, hyperloop pods are mounted on thin skis made out of inconel,an alloy already used by Musk's SpaceX firm that can withstand high pressure and heat.
    Air is pumped into the skis via small holes to make an air cushion, and each pod has air inlets at the front.
    An electric turbo compressor compresses air from the nose and routes it to the skis and to the cabin.
    Magnets on the skis, plus an electromagnetic pulse give the pod its initial thrust; reboosting motors along the route would keep the pod moving at just below the speed of sound so the system does not produce sonic booms.
    Musk believes it would take just 30 minutes to travel the 381 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco – half the time it takes in a plane – and likened the passenger experience to Disneyland's rocket ride Space Mountain.
    Now, the plans are beginning to take shape.
    A new firm, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is developing plans to makes the tubes a reality - and it has recruited experts from around the world.
    The crowdsourced firm has around 100 engineers on the projects, and nearly all of them have day jobs at companies like Boeing, NASA, Yahoo!, Airbus, SpaceX, and Salesforce.
    Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of the new company, says it seemed the perfect way to develop the plans, with a site called JumpStartFund that aimed to crowdsource ideas.
    He got in touch with SpaceX, Musk's firm, and the work began.
    The team includes about 25 UCLA graduate architecture students at a facility in Playa Vista, although most members work remotely.
    Ahlborn hopes to have a technical feasibility study finished in mid-2015, according to Wired.
    So far, the team has made progress in three main areas: the capsules, the stations, and the route.
    'They look at this like a blank sheet of paper on which they can realize their fantasies,' UCLA professor Craig Hodgetts said.
    Musk's idea is based on the pneumatic tubes that fire capsules of paperwork between floors in offices. In this case, the capsules would carry people – even cars – in low-pressure tubes to minimise turbulence and maximise speed.
    Musk believes it would take just 30 minutes to travel the 381 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco – half the time it takes in a plane – and likened the passenger experience to Disneyland's rocket ride Space Mountain.
    Musk believes it would take just 30 minutes to travel the 381 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco – half the time it takes in a plane – and likened the passenger experience to Disneyland's rocket ride Space Mountain.


    On top of pylons is a hovering capsule inside a low-pressurized tube, which can reach speeds of up to 760 mph.
    'The only resistance would be the air in front of the capsule, which we moved to the back by using a compressor,' Hyperloop CEO Dirk Ahlborn said.
    At its launch, Musk described the Hyperloop design as looking like a shotgun, with the tubes running side-by-side for most of the journey, then closing at either end to form a loop.
    Trains of capsules would shoot through the almost air-free tube at up to 760mph,
    accelerated by magnets which would also keep each pod on a steady course.
    Each capsule would float on a cushion of air it creates as it speeds along – similar to an air hockey table.
    So far, the team has made progress in three main areas: the capsules, the stations, and the route.
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    So far, the team has made progress in three main areas: the capsules, the stations, and the route.
    The proposed route of the firstHyperloop follows Interstate 5, which runs through the agriculture-richCentral Valley in California. It would take seven to ten years to build. 
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    The proposed route of the firstHyperloop follows Interstate 5, which runs through the agriculture-richCentral Valley in California. It would take seven to ten years to build.
    Capsules carrying six to eight people would depart every 30 seconds, with tickets costing around £13 each way.
    In his proposal released online, Musk wrote: 'Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super-fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.'
    The proposed route of the first Hyperloop follows Interstate 5, which runs through the agriculture-rich Central Valley in California. It would take seven to ten years to build.
    Musk put the price tag at around £4billion but pointed out that that is around one-tenth of the projected cost of a high-speed rail system that California has been planning to build.
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    The 100 person team is spread around the world
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    The 100 person team is spread around the world
    The tyeam has even built models in their bid to find out if Hyperloop could actually work
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    The tyeam has even built models in their bid to find out if Hyperloop could actually work
    However, transport experts received the proposal with scepticism, citing barriers, such as the threat of earthquakes in the region.
    Musk has said he is too focused on other projects, for example his rocket building company SpaceX, to consider building the Hyperloop, and instead is publishing a design that anyone can use or modify.
    Musk said he started thinking about the idea when plans for a 130mph (210km/h) high-speed train connection between LA and San Francisco were revealed, but now he has detailed his own version on Tesla's site.
    'Flight' of the future: The hyperloop will travel the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only 30 minutes
    'Flight' of the future: The hyperloop will travel the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only 30 minutes
    Smooth ride: 'It would have less lateral acceleration which is what tends to make people feel motion sick than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane,' creator Elon Musk said
    Smooth ride: 'It would have less lateral acceleration which is what tends to make people feel motion sick than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane,' creator Elon Musk said
    'I originally started thinking about [Hyperloop] when I read about California's high-speed rail project which was somewhat disappointing,' he told a Google Hangout with Richard Branson last week.
    'It's actually worse than taking the plane. I get a little sad when things are not getting better in the future.
    'Another example would be like the Concorde being retired and the fact there is no supersonic passenger transport. I think that is sad. You want the future to be better than the past, or at least I do.'
    The entrepreneur made his fortune with the internet payment system PayPal before switching his skills into developing the new Falcon rocket system for Nasa and the Tesla electric car.
    Mr Musk claims Hyperloop would be a practical solution for city pairs separated by 1,000 miles (1,600km) or less. Beyond this distance, it would be better to take a plane, he explained.
    Unique: Travellers would enter aluminium pods which are mounted above the ground on columns 50 to 100 yards apart
    Unique: Travellers would enter aluminium pods which are mounted above the ground on columns 50 to 100 yards apart
    Modern: This image shows how people would travel in the pods
    Modern: This image shows how people would travel in the pods
    But for the shorter distance, his new concept would beat the plane, he argues, because it would not waste time ascending and descending.
    'You want a transport system that is roughly twice as fast as the next best alternative, that costs less, that is safer, that is not subject to weather and is more convenient,' Mr Musk said.
    'If there were such a thing, I think most people would take it. In fact, it would increase the travel between the city pairs because of the increased convenience.'
    Experts say Musk's track record could help the plan become a reality.
    'Hyperloop is quite an old science fiction idea but Elon Musk is the sort of man who could make it work,' said physicist Martin Archer from Imperial College London.
    Space-like: This conceptual design of the machine shows that it will have a futuristic look
    Space-like: This conceptual design of the machine shows that it will have a futuristic look
    Built to last: The inventor boasted that the tracks would be immune to weather and earthquakes, though it is not immediately clear how so
    Built to last: The inventor boasted that the tracks would be immune to weather and earthquakes, though it is not immediately clear how so
    Creature comforts: The legroom is said to give would-be passengers a disruption-free ride
    Creature comforts: The legroom is said to give would-be passengers a disruption-free ride
    'He's the guy who made electric cars go fast with Tesla, which many people didn't think would be possible; and he's the head of SpaceX which is the only commercial rocket builder that has managed to hook up with the International Space Station.'
    Musk says he will leave it to others to build the system initially.
    'I have to focus on core Tesla business and SpaceX business, and that's more than enough,' he told investors of Tesla, his electric car firm.
    'If nothing happens for a few years, with that I mean maybe it could make sense to make the halfway path with Tesla involvement,' Musk said.
    'Hyperloop consists of a low pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube,' Musk said in an exhaustive paper detailing the system posted online.
    'The capsules are supported on a cushion of air.'
    Each of the capsules is pressurized, and Musk says they have an emergency braking system as well as a reserve air supply in the event of an emergency.
    Appealing to environmentalists: This graph shows the energy cost per passenger on different modes of transportation for the specific San Francisco-Los Angeles journey
    Appealing to environmentalists: This graph shows the energy cost per passenger on different modes of transportation for the specific San Francisco-Los Angeles journey
    There and back: The 'loop' portion highlights the fact that there would only be two stops
    There and back: The 'loop' portion highlights the fact that there would only be two stops
    He admits the scheme came from a disdain for current systems.
    'When the California 'high speed' rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too.
    'How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?'
    Musk claims the scheme can power itself through solar energy.
    'By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate.
    'This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather', he claims.

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