A little under a year from now, Orion is scheduled to be launched on top of an Atlas V for an unmanned test flight called Exploration Flight Test or EFT-1.
“EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.”
A subsequent test flight is scheduled to take place with a launch around the moon on top of a Space Launch System heavy lift vehicle in 2017. All of NASA’s hopes for exploring space beyond low Earth orbit rests on the Orion, a four person vehicle designed to be part of missions to asteroids, to Mars, and some hope back to the moon.
The Orion resembles more the old Apollo spacecraft than the space shuttle. It will launch on to of an SLS and will eventually return, at least for the first few missions, by splashing down in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of California.