NASA announced yesterday that they will keep the Orion capsule as the core of their future “flexible path” interplanetary exploration policy. I altered my schedule to listen to the teleconference live so that I could respond here with appropriate speed, thinking (mistakenly) that this was the announcement of something big…like the Heavy Lift Vehicle that would get NASA back into the manned Interplanetary Space Flight business. Silly me!
Of course, those who read the legislation late last year already knew about this. Technically, the word “Orion” painted on the outside of the vehicle was all that was really “cancelled”, the rest of the vehicle survives…albiet with an altered mission profile.
I just hope that the vehicle will actually find its way into space sometime soon. As it stands, it’s NewSpace (i.e. private industry) competitor, the SpaceX Dragon, rode to Low Earth Orbit atop a Falcon rocket last year. Not Orion’s fault of course, it’s a great spacecraft, it just has to wait a while for a while our government pulls its together and authorizes and builds Orion’s ride to space, the new Heavy Lift Vehicle program to replace the cancelled Ares V and extend our reach outside of LEO.
The simple change of name from “Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle” to “Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle” or MPCV looks to many like nothing more than a purging of the Bush Administration influence and legacy by the current administration. Even the Orion Facebook page was switched over yesterday.
Indeed, the new MPCV name does seem like nothing more than a silly shedding of the nasty, stupid, unpopular Bush Administration footprint and making it into a sweet, smart, popular Obama Administration project by changing its name so that this administration can take credit for it. In fact, some have started calling it the “More Politically Correct Vehicle”.
What is it? It is the crew decent capsule and central nerve center for any future NASA interplanetary spacecraft.
What it is not? Just another old-style, Apollo-era capsule. It and Ares individually and Constellation and the Moon mission collectively were accused by the current administration last year of being “the old way of doing things”. The outer hull of Orion doesn’t seem like much, certainly not as cool and trendy looking as the Space Shuttle or the various space plane concepts we’ve been seeing videos of for the past four decades. However, the inside is what counts, with fully modernized equipment. Unlike the Space Shuttle, it is supposed to be part of a simpler system with higher reliability (i.e. fewer scrubbed launches), lower operating costs, and safer operations (fewer Challengers and Columbias). Also unlike the Space Shuttle, it is designed from the ground up to remain in space, attached to other more specialized spacecraft componants, for the extended periods necessary for the long travel times to various points around the solor system like the astroids belt and Mars.
It’s mission has also changed, it will not be used for LEO transfers of goods and personnel to the International Space Station as was originally planned. NewSpace will take over those kinds of routine operations. Since it was already regarded by many to be over-designed for LEO in the first place, and I should think that it would still need to be capable of ISS docking, there might not be much in the way of redesign needed for the new mission profile.
They think that Orion won’t go to the Moon either…but don’t hold your breath. That debate is still ongoing, whether or not the current Administration chooses to ignore the noise and pretend to only one path. Maybe Dragon or some as yet undesigned NewSpace vehicle can get to the Moon sooner than Orion can, which could happen, but I doubt that future administrations will hold to a policy that ignores our nearest neighbor for human-access missions.
For that matter, many think that the current Administration’s goal of 2030 (at the soonest) to Mars is a bit slow. I think that if NASA waits until 2030 to go to Mars, they won’t need to bring a lunch to the landing party. Other people will already be there via NewSpace or China or India or something and will treat the NASA Astronauts to barbecued Mars Burgers upon their arrival.
Congratulations, Orion and team for the great job you do and for surviving the ax! I don’t work for NASA or any other Government agency, so I hope you don’t mind if I defiantly continue to call you Orion?
- NASA picks Orion-type capsule for deep space missions (news.cnet.com)
- Congressional support for NASA’s MPCV decision (spacepolitics.com)
- NASA Wants To Send Astronauts To Mars Within 20 Years (mashable.com)
- NASA plans capsule to take humans into deep space (cnn.com)
- Nasa picks future astronaut ship (bbc.co.uk)
- Lockheed Martin Statement On NASA MPCV Announcement (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA to use Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle plans for deep space craft design (geek.com)