With just two shuttle mission left on the schedule, NASA's next-gen crew vehicle had a big coming out party today as Lockheed Martin unveiled the first Orion spacecraft as well as a sprawling $35 million training center near Denver, Colo. Both the spacecraft and the astronauts that will eventually fly on it will undergo extensive testing here as the program ratchets up for operational deployment within just five years.
Refresher: Orion was part of the $100 billion Constellation program axed by President Obama last year when he rearranged NASA's priorities to focus on deep space missions (Constellation was designed to put mankind back on the moon). But the Orion crew capsule was salvaged from Constellation, originally to serve as an escape vehicle for the International Space Station.
But in the intervening months in which NASA hasn't exactly been given a crystal clear set of goals, the space agency and Lockheed Martin have turned Orion into a sort of multi-purpose space capsule that can serve as an escape pod and ISS resupply shuttle, but also as a potential deep space explorer. That means asteroids or possibly Lagrange Points for starters, setting the stage for a future mission to Mars.
The massive 41,000-foot Space Operations Simulation Center will train astronauts on the spacecraft, which will also undergo rigorous testing there and at Lockheed's other nearby facilities. The capsule unveiled Tuesday will likely never go all the way into orbital space, though some parts of it might, as many components are reusable even though the capsule itself is not. Rather, after extensive ground testing it could be launched on a suborbital test flight.
All that could transpire relatively soon. Orion's first orbital flight is slated for 2013 (construction of that vehicle begins this year), and in terms of sophisticated space vehicles, two years isn't a lot of time. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 calls for Orion to be ready for operational flight by 2016.
two more shuttle missions? I thought Discovery was the last one.
it was the last mission for Discovery but not the last mission for the remaining shuttles.
Please note 100 billion was not spent on Constellation, I'm not sure where the author got that number (its not in either source). Orion is intended to be a Beyond Low Earth orbit vehicle, it will only be used as taxi/cargo transport if COTS fails.
Also here's the the Lockheed press release this news comes from. www.lockheedmartin.com/news/press_releases/2011/0321_ss_orion.html
I remember what was supposed to originally replace the shuttle and, folks, this aint it. It was supposed to resemble the shuttle but featuring a solid surface with no tiles that could be loosened. Now that our government has cheaped out on the space program our future spacecraft looks like something out of the '60s.
One step backward for mankind...
No, $100billion was not spent on Constellation because it was cancelled. NASA's official estimate for the program was $97billion (through 2020) when the program was initiated. I think rounding to 100 from 97 is fair enough.
@Icenine: Originally, NASA was working on a single-stage-to-space orbital space plane, but that got axed because of technology failures during development, as well as safety concerns due to having the heat shield (whether tiled or continuous) exposed throughout the mission, as well as having astronauts strapped to a rocket with no means of escape.
The capsule design is more aerodynamically suited for aerobraking (using the atmosphere to slow down during re-entry) from high speeds than a spaceplane. This is essential for a vehicle expected to go beyond low Earth orbit, since a space plane would be unable to survive the re-entry speeds resulting from such a trip.
I'd like to point out that Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, and Soyuz all have much better safety records than the space shuttle, so a capsule clearly isn't a step back compared to a space plane.
I would say another capsule is more like stagnation.
You are absolutely correct Steve… Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, and Soyuz were all capsules…and this concept has been around since the 1960´s. However it is now 2011. Concepts for the single stage to orbit (SSTO) have been presented. For instance the Venture Star in the 1990´s
However it was never followed through because of the technical difficulties. SSTO is quite an engineering challenge. But isn´t that what agencies like NASA are suppose to be for…to take on these challenges?
Another concept for SSTO is now coming out of the United Kingdom…the Skylon project.
However…note that it is not an American project.
Icenine is correct when he says that the government “Cheaped Out”. The engineering ability in America exists to make SSTO a reality. But the govt. is not funding it.
I'm not sure where you got the idea that capsules are obsolete. When something works it works, time and public opinion does not make it obsolete. Capsules are superior than spaceplanes in certain areas, they're lighter, easier to adapt to different re-entry paths, and their heatsheild is usually protected during the entire mission by a service module.
Single Stage To Orbit isn't what you want if you plan to leave low earth orbit. Picture trying to get VentureStar to Mars, it would be the most expensive, the least practical, and least logical way to do it. And Skylon isn't receiving anywhere near the 12 billion funding it needs.
The fastest way to get into space is to deregulate it and allow anyone and everyone give it a go. NASA did her part now she can serve as a regulatory oversight agency to ensure that we all abide by the rules of getting into space (no launching rockets in downtown Cambridge). Let's make business revenue tax free, let's provide job incentives, let's do whatever it takes to empower businesses to build for space. Also regarding the look of this - ships look the way they do for a reason. The frigates of the 1500s look essentially the same as the sailboats of today...that's 500 years of technology and boats still look like boats. Once you are in space - then you can start seeing the Enterprise.
@beantown179...NASA is doing something akin to what you are refering to...check out SpaceX
Talk about feature creep! Is this how NASA wishes to be taken seriously?
And I note that the COTS program had companies willing and able to provide the same functionality (Dragon from Space-X) if provided development money. It is good to have backup, but expensive; and only if NASA can somehow motivate why commercial solutions are not good for cutting edge exploration will it be strictly necessary from the get go.
"I'd like to point out that Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, and Soyuz all have much better safety records than the space shuttle,"
How do you figure that?
Apollo: 12 missions, 3 seats = 36 persons; 1 failure with 3 killed, 1 incomplete: 92 % survival rate, 83 % success rate.
SST: 133 missions, 6 seats average after shakedown = ~ 800 persons; 2 failures with 14 killed, 1 incomplete: 98 % survival rate, 98 % success rate.
If you separate out development, mature Apollo had a perfect survival rate (though 3 persons lucked out) sure, but still worse success rate. Oddly, the SST was far from perfect in safety design and procedure, so presumably it could have been even better.
get off the shuttle already, should have been dumped long ago, too expensive and obsolete, most of what they did could have been done with conventional rockets much cheaper
SSTO is not a concept to carry out interplanetary missions. It is, as its name says…Single Stage to Orbit, a vehicle to get cargo and humans to orbit. Its main goal is to reduce the cost of transporting payloads into orbit and therefore make space more accessible. It gives mission planners another logistic tool with which to work. For heavy lift missions, like putting parts of interplanetary spacecraft into orbit, there are rockets. But rockets are, per pound of payload, expensive. One can not just land them and reuse them. How much do you think a plane ticket on a transatlantic flight would cost if an airplane was just flown once and then junked after it got to its destination?
As to the skylon project, from what I have read about it, it is in the proof of concept phase and has a 10 year development plan. Here is the company webpage
You write that it isn´t anywhere near its funding goals. This is typical. But the company is writing proposals for the funding. It will be interesting to see if the British govt. and/or the ESA will pick up the opportunity that the U.S. govt. ignored.
However, I am of the opinion that Skylon is the best SSTO concept thus far for reducing the cost and increasing the flexibility of flights to LEO.
Does anyone know of a better one that is being proposed?
the airforce has sent a second unmanned vehicle into orbit, could this be enlarged, increasing payload and carry astronauts?
Hi Dr. Chuck…
Do you mean this launch?
This is the X-37B
From what I understand about this vehicle it was built to be unmanned and perform the “secret” long duration space missions for the air force. It is more or less a tiny version of the shuttle.
yup, that's the one, i was wondering if it could be scaled up for cargo and manned flight, with it's state of the art materials and a platform for ascent similar to Vigin Galactic's, could it be a viable replacement for the shuttle program?
The Boing X-37 and Virgin Galactic´s “Space Ship 2” have two different launch concepts.
The X-37 is propelled into orbit on top of a rocket while the Space Ship 2 is carried to a high altitude by a specially designed aircraft…the “White Knight 2”...where it then uses its engines to get to sub-orbital altitude. However, I did see a picture of the X-37 being transported by an airplane in a similar fashion to space ship 2 for a “drop test”.
To the best of my knowledge, it was designed to be a pilotless craft that can stay in orbit and return its cargo back to earth after long duration flights… a mini-shuttle. Other than being piloted remotely, I do not know of any other advances over the space shuttle technology.
The X-37 is not even 30 feet long (compared to the space shuttles length of 122 ft.) and if it was scaled up I would imagine that it would probably be very similar to the shuttle both in launch method and appearance.
i was just entertaining the thought of a modern shuttle, based on the x-37, with a safer launch system, similar to virgin galactic's launch system, or would this idea turn into a more expensive shuttle with no better capabilities?
I think that Virgin Galactic´s concept is an intermediate step before a full SSTO vehicle is built and in service. If anything, I would think that scaling up Virgin Galactic´s concept to go beyond sub-orbital would be better than scaling up the X-37. I say this because the X-37 was built for carrying non-human payloads while the Virgin Galactic ship was built specifically for people.
right, the x-37 is a proof of concept, if built bigger to carry passengers and/or payloads and using a platform like virgin galactic's so it can launch from high altitude to eliminate the huge and dangerous fuel tank the shuttles are stuck with, of course it would also need a rocket system deployed after separation from the mother ship, i would think new materials developed since the shuttles (ancient now) would make this possible, wasn't a design like this dumped during the shuttle's development because of high cost?
I am not awear of any design changes to the shuttle of this kind.
Why not just extend Virgin Galatics design to go from sub orbital to LEO instead of scaling up the X-37?
it would need to carry cargo and the re-entry speeds would require an x-37 type heat shield...here's a site with shuttle designs that were discarded...http://www.nasm.si.edu/exhibitions/gal114/SpaceRace/sec500/sec542.htm
I was looking at it form a human carrying perspective. The delivery of cargo to LEO is something that is America can still do through various launch concepts and companies. As you mentioned, Space X has already signed launch contracts with NASA.
The heat shielding has to do with the type of re-entry that will done. It has to do with dissipation of the gravitational energy. The stronger the heat shield, the more direct a plunge can be. With an aircraft design and a “Glider” concept, the re-entry would not be so direct but it can come down from any altitude…even LEO or beyond.
If it was up to me, I would not suggest investing the resources in scaling up the X-37. It has its purpose and it functions well in its purpose. I believe if it was scaled up a vehicle similar to the shuttle would be the result and it is time to move beyond that concept.
I would suggest investing the time, money and engineering resources to get a concept like the Skylon in operation. That is a vehicle that is designed from the start to be SSTO and the maintenance and turn around time will be a lot less.
you may be correct, ending up with an improved shuttle (more modern materials, ect.) but similiar capabilities with the draw back of needing rocket propulsion all the way to orbit, the skylon project you mentioned should definately get the necessary funding ASAP, looks very promising
I just wish these companies would focus more on the interplanetary craft (like Skylon). Personally I believe Skylon will be the biggest player in the space age market, if they could make some improvements to their interplanetary craft design, such as adding solar panels, nuclear propulsion, and larger rotating sections, along with an improved cargo bay and incorporating Bigelow Aerospace's designs I see an even more practical space faring vessel.
Personally I agree with Icenine that capsules are a step backward, Primarily because they are! Yeah I know capsules are cheaper to ferry people back and forth to the ISS but that's it! I think people have forgotten that the shuttle served as a multipurpose vehicle doing experiments, fixing or deploying satellites, as well as being large enough to accommodate enough equipment and personnel needed to undertake the construction of the ISS in the first place.
There is no way a capsule can replace the shuttle except in the role of ferrying people back and forth which the shuttle or another comparable vehicle would do while performing many other needed tasks. I don't understand how NASA or any other space agency could say that this or any capsule this size is a viable replacement for the shuttle program! Its just too small! Besides what about all those secret military experiments we don't want other country's knowing about!
Ok maybe that was a bit much at the end, but I hope anyone reading this gets my point.