Orion Spacecraft Updates (2010)

NASA Constellation Program

Artist's rendering of an Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit
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Documentary Description

Orion is a spacecraft being designed by Lockheed Martin for NASA, the space agency of the United States. Orion development began as part of the Constellation program, where Orion would fulfill the function of a Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Each Orion spacecraft is projected to carry a crew of four to six astronauts. The spacecraft is designed to be launched by the Ares I, a launch vehicle which is also part of the Constellation program. Constellation plans to send human explorers back to the Moon by 2020, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System. On August 31, 2006, NASA awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to design, develop, and build Orion.


On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced the Orion spacecraft, known then as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), as part of the Vision for Space Exploration:

"Our second goal is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module."

The proposal to create the Orion spacecraft was partly a reaction to the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, the subsequent findings and report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), and the White House's review of the American space program. The Orion spacecraft effectively replaced the conceptual Orbital Space Plane (OSP), which itself was proposed after the failure of the Lockheed Martin X-33 program to produce a replacement for the space shuttle.

The name is derived from the constellation of Orion, and was also used on the Apollo 16 Lunar Module that carried astronauts John W. Young and Charlie Duke to the lunar surface in April 1972.

After the replacement of Sean O'Keefe, NASA's procurement schedule and strategy completely changed, as described above. In July 2004, before he was named NASA administrator, Michael Griffin participated in a study called "Extending Human Presence Into the Solar System" for The Planetary Society, as a co-team leader. The study offers a strategy for carrying out Project Constellation in an affordable and achievable manner. Since Griffin was one of the leaders of the study, it can be assumed that he agrees with its conclusions, and the study may show insight into possible future developments of the CEV. Griffin's actions as administrator supported the goals of the plan.

According to the executive summary, the study was built around "a staged approach to human exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO)." It recommends that Project Constellation be carried out in three distinct stages. These are:

* Stage 1 – "Features the development of a new crew exploration vehicle (CEV), the completion of the International Space Station (ISS), and an early retirement of the shuttle orbiter. Orbiter retirement would be made as soon as the ISS U.S. Core is completed (perhaps only 6 or 7 flights) and the smallest number of additional flights necessary to satisfy our international partners’ ISS requirements. Money saved by early orbiter retirement would be used to accelerate the CEV development schedule to minimize or eliminate any hiatus in U.S. capability to reach and return from LEO."

* Stage 2 – "Requires the development of additional assets, including an uprated CEV capable of extended missions of many months in interplanetary space. Habitation, laboratory, consumables, and propulsion modules, to enable human flight to the vicinities of the Moon and Mars, the Lagrange points, and certain near-Earth asteroids."

* Stage 3 – "Development of human-rated planetary landers is completed in Stage 3, allowing human missions to the surface of the Moon and Mars beginning around 2020."

A number of changes to the original CEV acquisition strategy were explained in a NASA study called the Exploration Systems Architecture Study. The results were presented at a news conference held on September 19, 2005. The ESAS recommends strategies for flying the manned Orion by 2014, and endorses a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous approach to the Moon. The LEO versions of Orion would carry crews of four to six to the ISS. The lunar version of the Orion would carry a crew of four and the Mars Orion would carry six. Cargo could also be carried aboard an unmanned version of Orion, similar to the Russian Progress cargo ships. The contractor for the Orion is Lockheed Martin, which was selected by NASA in September, 2006 and is the current contractor for the Space Shuttle's External Tank and the Atlas V EELV.

The Orion spacecraft (CEV) will be an Apollo-like capsule, with a Viking-type heat shield, not a lifting body or winged vehicle like the current Shuttle. Like the Apollo Command Module, Orion would be attached to a service module for life support and propulsion. It would land on land rather than water, similar to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft. However, it would be capable of a water recovery if an emergency splashdown were needed. Possible landing areas that have been identified include Edwards Air Force Base, California, Carson Flats, Nevada, and the area around Moses Lake, Washington. Landing on the west coast would allow the majority of the reentry path to be flown over the Pacific Ocean rather than populated areas. Orion will have an ablative (Apollo-like) heat shield that would be discarded after each use, and the CEV itself could be reused about 10 times.

The Orion spacecraft (CEV) would weigh about 25 tons (23 tonnes) … almost four times the mass of the Apollo Command Module at 6.4 tons (5.8 tonnes) … and, with a diameter of 16.5 feet (5 metres) vice 12.8 feet (3.9 metres) provide 2.5 times greater volume.

Accelerated lunar mission development is slated to start by 2010, once the Shuttle is retired. The Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) and heavy-lift boosters would be developed in parallel and would both be ready for flight by 2018. The eventual goal is to achieve a lunar landing by 2020. The LSAM would be much larger than the Apollo Lunar Module and is anticipated to be capable of carrying up to around 23 tons (21 tonnes) of cargo to the lunar surface to support a lunar outpost (t.b.d.). This weight in cargo is greater than the mass of the entire Apollo Lunar Module.

Like the Apollo Lunar Module, the LSAM would include a descent stage for landing and an ascent stage for returning to orbit. The crew of four would ride in the ascent stage. The ascent stage would be powered by a methane/oxygen fuel for return to lunar orbit (later changed to liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, due to the infancy of oxygen/methane rocket propulsion). This would allow a derivative of the same lander to be used on later Mars missions, where methane propellant can be manufactured from the Martian soil in a process known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). The LSAM would support the crew of four on the lunar surface for about a week and use advanced roving vehicles to explore the lunar surface. The huge amount of cargo carried by the LSAM would be extremely beneficial for supporting a lunar base and for bringing large amounts of scientific equipment to the lunar surface.

Orion would launch from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, the same launch complex that currently launches the space shuttle. While shuttle operations continue from launch pad 39A, 39B is being readied for Ares launches. NASA will use Orion spacecraft for its human spaceflight missions after the last shuttle orbiter is retired in 2010. The first crewed Orion flight is anticipated in 2015. Subsequent flights will visit the International Space Station. If commercial orbital transportation services are unavailable, Orion will handle logistic flights to the Station. After that, Orion is to become a key component of human missions to the Moon and Mars.

The federal government proposed cancellation of the Constellation program in early February 2010. The final fate of Constellation program components yet to be determined, NASA has indicated that technologies and systems developed to date will be reviewed for potential inclusion in new programs aimed at manned spaceflight.

As of March 10, 2010 (2010 -03-10), NASA had begun to shut down the Constellation program in accordance with President Obama's cancellation directive. Control over the program was turned over to Lockheed Martin. As of April 15, 2010 (2010 -04-15), Obama directed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using the Orion technology and announced the decision in a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center.

Source: Wikipedia


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