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.