KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--A version of the Bush administration's Orion moon capsule, written off by the Obama administration and then resurrected as a space station lifeboat, will be developed instead for use in future manned flights to deep space targets beyond Earth orbit, the agency announced today.
Douglas Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, told reporters the Orion concept, described by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin as "Apollo on steroids," is the most capable spacecraft currently on the drawing board for meeting the Obama administration's "flexible path" approach to deep space exploration.
"This is the Orion-based concept that was designed for deep space missions and had the appropriate accommodations and design requirements for that type of mission," he said. "We did look at alternatives in some of the systems designs we're seeing in the various concepts that are being proposed, for instance, for commercial (vehicles)...And after studying those, we found the design approach we've got is really the best for this type of mission beyond low-Earth orbit."
Developed by Lockheed Martin, the solar-powered Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MPCV, would carry four astronauts on missions lasting up to three weeks, much longer when attached to a larger interplanetary habitation module of some sort. The capsule would have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, weigh approximately 23 tons at launch and end its missions with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Using an advanced abort system and a high-performance heat shield, the MPCV is expected to be 10 times safer than the space shuttle.
But Cooke said he does not yet know what it will cost to develop the MPCV, when the first manned or unmanned test fight might launch, how much individual vehicles will cost, what rocket will be used to launch them or where they might end up going. To date, he said, NASA has spent more than $5 billion on the Orion concept.
"When? Basically, we are still working on our integrated architecture; that includes the space launch system, along with ground systems and other supporting projects in order to put together integrated cost and schedule," he said. "So at this point, we don't have a specific date, although we are working diligently to understand earliest possible test dates within the approach that we are working to lay out."
In 2004, the Bush administration ordered NASA to complete the International Space Station and retire the space shuttle by the end of fiscal 2010, and to channel the savings into development of new rockets and spacecraft designed to support long-duration outposts on the moon by the early 2020s. Since then, the final shuttle flight has slipped to this July.
During Griffin's tenure, NASA came up with the Constellation program to implement the president's directive. The Orion capsule was intended to carry astronauts to and from the moon and to service the International Space Station as required. Two rockets were envisioned, the Ares I to launch Orion capsules into Earth orbit, and a huge heavy-lift Ares V to boost lunar landers and attached Orion spacecraft to the moon.… Read more