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New Details About Space Shuttle Successor

Artist illustration of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle. Image credit: Northrop Grumman. Click to enlarge.
A Northrop Grumman-Boeing team has unveiled its plans to design and build NASA’s proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle, a successor to the space shuttle that will carry humans to the International Space Station by 2012 and back to the moon by 2018. Shown in these artist concepts, the new, modular space vehicle comprises a crew module reminiscent of the Apollo spacecraft, a service module and a launch-abort system.

A Northrop Grumman-Boeing team has unveiled its plans to design and build NASA’s proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle, a successor to the space shuttle that will carry humans to the International Space Station by 2012 and back to the moon by 2018. Shown in these artist concepts, the new, modular space vehicle comprises a crew module reminiscent of the Apollo spacecraft, a service module and a launch-abort system.

The CEV comprises a crew module that builds on NASA’s Apollo spacecraft, a service module and a launch-abort system. It is designed to be carried into space aboard a shuttle-derived launch vehicle — a rocket based on the solid rocket booster technology that powers the early phases of current shuttle flights.

The CEV will be produced both as a crewed space transportation system and as an uncrewed space vehicle capable of transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station. NASA expects to select a CEV prime contractor in the spring of 2006.

According to Doug Young, program manager for the Northrop Grumman-Boeing CEV team, the team’s design approach to the CEV and the overall mission architecture have been evolving over the past year.

“We’ve been working closely with NASA to identify design options and technologies that would enable the nation to meet its space exploration goals of safety, affordability and reliability,” Young said. “Early on we concluded that this modular, capsule-based approach would establish an ideal foundation for a successful, sustainable human and robotic space exploration program. It’s also a system that can be designed and built today using proven technologies, which will help maintain the nation’s leadership role in human space flight.”

While similar in shape to the Apollo spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the new CEV is a quantum leap forward in terms of performance, reliability and on-orbit mission capability.

“The CEV we plan to build will benefit not so much from a single, technical breakthrough but rather from evolutionary improvements in structural technologies, electronics, avionics, thermal-management systems, software and integrated system- health-management systems over the past 40 years,” said Leonard Nicholson, the Northrop Grumman-Boeing team’s deputy program manager.

According to Nicholson, the CEV offers many fundamental improvements over Apollo. Among them:

– CEV’s crew module will have much more internal volume than the Apollo capsule, but will only be slightly heavier, due to the use of advanced structural materials and technologies that reduce the size, weight and power consumption of key subsystems.

– CEV’s crew module will carry up to six astronauts, while Apollo carried just three.

– CEV will carry more fuel for lunar return than Apollo, allowing it to change its orbit rather than relying on the moon and the Earth to be in the right relative positions.

– CEV will be able to operate as an autonomous spacecraft orbiting the moon for up to six months while its crew of four descends to the lunar surface in the lunar lander. Crew members and ground controllers will be able to communicate with the CEV and monitor its “vital signs” remotely. During the Apollo era, one astronaut stayed with the “mother ship” while the lunar lander carrying two astronauts descended to the moon.

– CEV will use two fault-tolerant subsystems and integrated system-health- management systems to allow it to detect, isolate and recover from subsystem failures. By comparison, Apollo generally had only single fault tolerance.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is one of the world’s largest space and defense businesses. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $30.5 billion business. It provides network-centric system solutions to its global military, government and commercial customers. It is a leading provider of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems; the world’s largest military aircraft manufacturer; the world’s largest satellite manufacturer and a leading provider of space-based communications; the primary systems integrator for U.S. missile defense; NASA’s largest contractor; and a global leader in sustainment solutions and launch services.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. It provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 125,000 employees, and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, the company serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers. Today, more than 20,000 of Northrop Grumman’s employees are devoted to space-related projects.

Original Source: Northrop Grumman News Release

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Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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