NASA is planning to conduct an unmanned flight test of its Orion spacecraft in early 2014.
The Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1), which will be executed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin, is slated to fly two orbits to a high-apogee, followed by a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.
After making a water landing, Orion will be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions.
"The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit," explained Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier.
"This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive."
NASA is currently developing the Orion spacecraft to transport astronauts to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations atop SLS, the agency's new heavy launch vehicle.
Early orbital flights test such as EFT-1 are expected to provide data needed to influence design decisions and serve as a pathfinder to validate new approaches to space systems development.