The Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV) has been described by NASA as the “space craft for the future.” And as little future astronauts clambered all over the craft at the Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., EE Times talked to its designers at Lockheed Martin to learn more.
The craft, which was specially built to allow for deep space exploration, boasts better safety, speed and endurance features than previous shuttles, allowing astronauts to spend up to six months traveling through space.
Originally constructed for the now-canceled Constellation program, Orion has gone through several changes in its lifetime, but seems to have found its identity as a craft NASA plans to use to send crews of four to six astronauts further than ever before – even to asteroids or to Mars. As a secondary mission, the craft will also be used as a backup vehicle for cargo and crewed missions to the International Space Station.
About 30 percent larger than the Apollo, the space craft that took U.S. astronauts to the moon 40-50 years ago, Orion has been described as a “2012 Lexus compared to a 1960s Chevy.”
Some of the souped up features in the Orion include a "glass cockpit" digital control system derived from that of the Boeing 787, as well as an "autodock" feature, improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet, and more advanced computers.
The craft, weighing some 25 tons with a diameter of 16.5 feet (5 metres) also has ejection seat capabilities and can go from 0-500MPH in 2 seconds.
Orion is also billed as being a lot more safe and secure for the astronauts, who will be able to go on missions of up to six months, a far greater time frame than any past space shuttle missions.
“We really want to get out there and explore and discover and get back into deep space,” said Lockheed Martin representative Joe Mayer.
The MPCV's first unmanned multi-hour test flight is scheduled for a launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2014. Orion will then launch with a new rocket system in 2017. The first manned mission is expected to take place by 2021.
Martin said the success of the program was phenomenal considering space exploration had to make do with just half a percent of the U.S. federal budget, and urged people to keep supporting the dream of new frontiers in space.
“We have to have a sustained presence and commitment to the space program,” he said.
@prabhakar_deosthali: this issue has been addressed very well by NASA, Russian and other space agencies worldwide for some of the organic waste recycling (liquid in particular).
In the last space shuttle mission, NASA tested a recycler to make pee drinkable!
@resistion: It is mostly on the drawing boards for now... the Intl space station was one such facility which would function as the launch pad for deep space missions but so far it can barely sustain itself even with many countries in the partnership. There were concepts for launching from moon's surface into deep space but I remain skeptical of seeing that happen in my life time!
I think robotic missions to Mars continue to make sense. These completely eliminate the challenges of sending astronauts to such spaces and bring the back home safe. When you take out the burden of addressing human safety in these missions, cost will not look as challenging. This, I believe, will happen in my life time!
A souped up Apollo capsule for deep space missions doesn't seem much like 45 years of progress! Is that the best we can do? Can you imagine sitting in that thing for 6 months? Talk about cabin feaver!
During production of the movie "2001 A Space Odyssey", Stanley Kubrik consulted with NASA so that he could accurately show on the screen what spacecraft might look like in the year 2001. The Discovery space craft for deep space missions and the space station shown in the movie were some of the hardware that they were thinking of back then. But today, 45 years later, the International Space Station and this modified Apollo capsule are a far cry from the vision NASA once had.
It is true that NASA has had severe budget cuts over the years, but as a Nation, it seems that we have made little real progress in space in the last 45 years. When you consider that China is working to put a man on the moon and we can't even put a man in space right now, it seems like we have taken a step backwards.
For such a long duration flight , there has to be some kind of organic recycling system which help the astronauts on board to recycle their waste and create their own food. What kind of system has been designed on these modern spacecraft?
George, your opinion may indeed become reality unless US makes some strategic moves to get international participation. We should build on the cooperative model that was employed in case of the international space station. But increasingly, ROI becomes a challenging difficulty even for developed economies to address in a venture like that of Orion's.
@resistion: the shuttles (now retired) were never designed for deep space missions. All shuttle missions in the past operated below 400km altitude, well below the Van Allen belts so they were never in any radiation danger.
Very cool. And I agree, nice video.
My only comment on these matters is, though, that it seems unlikely for any truly long term mission spacecraft to be viable if it isn't designed to spin on its axis, in order to simulate gravity. Six months without gravity, even with a strict exercise regimen, has been shown to be quite debilitating.
So take a Mars mission, where the trip each way could well be longer than 6 months, and where even the gravity on Mars is a lot less than on Earth. In what shape will these astronauts be when they return?
Anyway, in spite of this, it is great to see that these efforts haven't stopped. Wouldn't it be nice if NASA got some of the benefits from reductions in the defense budget? They never have.