The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle being assembled and tested at Lockheed Martin's Vertical Testing Facility in Colorado. Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Next Crew Vehicle Will be Based on Orion

24 May , 2011 by

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NASA has made a decision on their next crew vehicle, and now have plans to develop a “new” spacecraft called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle which was being built to return humans to the Moon. This decision shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it is not a huge leap or a big change for NASA — the Orion crew vehicle has been in continued development by Lockheed Martin and the company was already making changes in the vehicle for a proposed asteroid mission.

“We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there,” Bolden said. “The NASA Authorization Act lays out a clear path forward for us by handing off transportation to the International Space Station to our private sector partners, so we can focus on deep space exploration. As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track.”

Artist's rendering of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle on a deep space mission. Image credit: NASA

NASA said that Lockheed Martin will continue work on development of the MPCV, since they already have a test article built of the Orion. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The spacecraft will have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, with 316 cubic feet of habitable space.

It will serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond low Earth orbit and be capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking, extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by a launch system for missions beyond LEO. The MPCV could also be a backup system for ISS cargo and crew delivery.

A 21-day mission might get astronauts to a nearby asteroid, but there would not be enough time for a longer-duration, far-away asteroid mission and certainly not to Mars. It would get you to the Moon, allowing astronauts to stay a couple weeks and then return home, which was what Constellation was going to do in its first stages.

UPDATE: During a press conference today, Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate said that the approach on the MPCV vehicle is that it primarily will be for launch and entry with in-space capabilities for only certain periods of time. “For long term missions, we would assume that we have an in-space habitation in a larger compartment or module since the crew would need more space for longer periods of time. So whether they are going to lunar orbit or near earth asteroids, this vehicle would be maintained in a dormant mode while the crew would be in another volume that would be capable of longer term use, but this vehicle would be used as launching to a larger volume, or for reentry.”

The Orion vehicle at one time had been pegged to be a rescue vehicle for the International Space Station. Cooke said that this new vehicle is not being designed for that, but another vehicle could be in designed for that.

One big selling point is that the new MPCV is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the space shuttle.

“This selection does not indicate a business as usual mentality for NASA programs,” said Cooke, “The Orion government and industry team has shown exceptional creativity in finding ways to keep costs down through management techniques, technical solutions and innovation.”

Now, NASA just needs a rocket that can take the MPCV somewhere — as well as a new name for the MPCV. (Cooke said a name for the vehicle hasn’t been their top priority.) Cooke said they hope to make an announcement in July about the launch system that will be used.

The current rumor is that the new Congressional-mandated launched system will be based on the Ares 5, the heavy-lifter NASA began designing in 2006 for manned Moon missions which was canceled by President Obama along with Orion…

Learn more about the MPCV at this new NASA webpage.

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postman1
Member
postman1
May 24, 2011 6:43 PM

316 cubic feet of habitable space is not much. Is there any research into adding an inflatable from Bigelow? A Sundancer would provide an additional 180 cubic meters living space and provide for better mental and physical health of the crew. It could be inflated after they were underway and parked in earth orbit on return for possible repeat use. From what I’ve read on Bigelow’s site, it would provide more protection for the crew from radiation or impacts too.

Thomas Tarrants
Guest
May 24, 2011 7:08 PM

It’s not like they’ll inhabit the capsule for extended periods. If it were going somewhere other than ISS, it would probably have a mission module or some other complex to go to.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
May 25, 2011 2:15 AM

Indeed it should, but no one is saying that, so far. Right now, the idea seems to be twin Orions docked together to reach a NEO…and for an uncomfortably long time…

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
May 25, 2011 9:59 AM

I take that back. There is *some* sanity happening here:

http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=29739

Potatoswatter
Guest
May 24, 2011 8:27 PM

Depends if Bigelow gets bought out by Lockheed or Boeing, and they figure out a way to work it into pork-barrel politics.

Tim Manley
Guest
May 24, 2011 1:45 PM

What was old is new again huh? Looks like an upgrade of the capsules instead of a next generation space vehicle.

Thomas Tarrants
Guest
May 24, 2011 7:07 PM
Capsules are the ideal spacecraft really. Some things we learned from the shuttle era: · Wings don’t work in space. · It defeats the purpose of a HLV if most of the payload has to come back down. · Complicated spacecraft are complicated. · The Shuttle did not live up to the goals for which it was designed to achieve — it did not dramatically lower the cost of spaceflight, and it’s reusability is not as easy as was hoped (compare the concept art of the Orbiter Processing Facility to what really happened — complicated spacecraft are complicated :c) I think it’s clear that the Russians had it right the whole time. Design a small or medium-lift rocket… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 24, 2011 8:54 PM
The Shuttle wasn’t designed as a spacecraft though, but as a reusable launcher: – “· Wings don’t work in space.” We knew this before the shuttle =D, and they were solely used for landing. If you want to go for a suboptimal Shuttle technology, the main engines are a better choice as they had to cover sea level to space. No nozzle engine can do this optimally, you need spike engines to do this. – “defeats the purpose of a HLV”, “complicated”. But it doesn’t defeat the purpose of a reusable LV, nor will they be much less complicated on the system level. The Ares-5 derivative will do the same reuse. Even SpaceX aim to do this for… Read more »
Tim Manley
Guest
May 24, 2011 4:24 PM
Disagree. Capsules are not the best spacecraft. Going back to crashed landing in the water is not a superior solution to gliding into a runway. The best spacecraft is one that stays in space (note – not abandoned in space)…. what we’re talking about here is a landing craft + Wings in space were never expected to work. The reason for the wings on the shuttle was landing. + Shuttle wasn’t intended to be a heavy lifting vehicle. It was intended to be a…. shuttle. + All spacecraft are complicated. + the shuttle actually performed miraculously. 133 flights over 30 years. Sorry, that is an AWESOME record. I disagree that the Russians “had the right idea the whole… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
May 25, 2011 2:12 AM
“Wings don’t work in space. Um, I think they knew that. Wings (though they didn’t really need the cross range of deltas) were part of the price of re-useability. (though non-winged, vertical take of and landing re-useable launchers are also possible) It’s the same obvious reason you don’t put landing gear on cruise missiles. “It defeats the purpose of a HLV if most of the payload has to come back down.” I…don’t understand that assertion. Shuttle wasn’t built to justify an HLV, compete with one, or act as a re-useable one. “Complicated spacecraft are complicated.” It remains to be seen how ‘simple’ a deep-space Orion will be. “The Shuttle did not live up to the goals for which… Read more »
Molnár László
Guest
May 24, 2011 7:15 PM

For the non-imperial people:
690 cubic feet = 19.5 m^3
316 cubic feet = 8.9 m^3

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
May 24, 2011 9:31 PM

Almost as much as Dragon for the pressurized, but more for unpressurized.

(From the SpaceX site) Payload Volume: 10 m3 (245 ft3) pressurized, 14 m3 (490 ft3) unpressurized.

Hematite
Member
Hematite
May 24, 2011 7:52 PM

What about solar storms? We were very lucky that none of the Apollo crews were fried when they ventured out from under the Van Alan Belt: this capsule better be hardened sufficiently to keep the crew safe from coronal mass ejections!

Hematite
Member
Hematite
May 24, 2011 7:59 PM

Ooops!

Hematite
Member
Hematite
May 24, 2011 7:59 PM

What about solar storms? We were very lucky that none of the Apollo crews were fried when they ventured out from under the Van Alan Belt: this capsule better be hardened sufficiently to keep the crew safe from coronal mass ejections!

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 24, 2011 8:36 PM
A 21-day mission might get astronauts to a nearby asteroid, I don’t think it will though. I can see from the web that people want to assess NEOs due to this, but as of 2008 there where only a handful of NEOs that were reachable with the more capable Orion (210 days): “Out of the then-current JPL catalogue, nine candidate NEOs were found that presented good opportunities for piloted CEV missions within the 2020 to 2035 time frame. Three of the NEO targets were reachable with mission durations of 150 days and all nine were reachable with mission lengths of 180 days (Fig. 4) (Table 1). Several NEOs were attainable under 90 and 120 day mission scenarios, but… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
May 24, 2011 8:58 PM
What people do not seem to realize is that interplanetary space can be very lethal. A decent solar flair can send enough Kev energy charged particles to turn the crew of a spacecraft into dead bodies within hours. This capsule does not appear to be very shielded, and you will need about 1kg of shield for every square cm of containment wall of the cabin. Based on the specs for this capsule the shielding mass could be up to 27 metric tons. This is capsule would probably not be the main compartment during flight, so shielding could be up to 100 or 200 tons. Even flying to the moon is a bit risky, but for a week mission… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 24, 2011 9:49 PM

Solar storms, now with extra flair. =D

But you are correct. I don’t know how they (or Space-X) will handle that part. Most likely they want to add a larger living volume for transit and a storm shelter against solar CMEs.

[Added in posting: I see this is discussed below.]

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
May 24, 2011 10:13 PM
It is a major problem with the whole idea of piloted interplanetary space flight. There is no way out of the need for considerable mass that acts as shielding. One might of course use a large magnetic field to do the trick, but you need a hefty power source and so forth. One thought is to put the crew cabin in a section that has a reaction mass jacket around it, essentially a tubular dewar flask that holds hydrogen. Either that or the tank is otherwise designed to most often face the sun to shadow the cabin. The reason for hydrogen is I assume any interplanetary craft will be nuclear propelled with an ISP of 1000 to 2000… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 24, 2011 9:25 PM
I found NASA’s Jan 2011 report “Preliminary Report Regarding NASA’s Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle”. There I note that the MPCV will “Be evolvable to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond cis-lunar space.” (p 18). Also, NASA acknowledges that they have have been doing skunk works instead of acting out the point of law (?) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010: “The Authorization Act also calls for the MPCV to be capable of providing, as a back-up to commercial crew and international partner services, crew and cargo transportation to and from the ISS. The beyond-LEO Orion also meets this requirement of contingency transportation to and from the ISS. Although the beyond-LEO Orion… Read more »
Ben
Guest
May 24, 2011 8:37 PM
It still is Orion, it was never cancelled. The moon phase was, the launcher was .. the capsule never was as it was needed to replace the shuttle. Obama cancelled NASA’s moon-oriented Constellation program, which included the Ares I rocket, last year and ordered a new plan that favors asteroid and Mars exploration. Lockheed Martin, for example, has performed an in-depth study on linking multiple Orion capsules together and sending them on a manned mission to an asteroid. The Endevour launch the other day saw NASA state that they were excited by seeing Orion in their testing area and that they think it’s capable of 220+ days with 3 crew members interlinking the capsules…. He even joked that… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
May 25, 2011 2:21 AM

Sigh. I could live with continuing Orion work, as long as it was understood that it would not go to LEO on any launcher that isn’t already operational, or upgrades of same…

Or not to go beyond LEO without orbital re-fueling or docking with a non-expendable, refuelable ‘tug’ of some sort…

It’s using Orion/MPCV as a foot in the door to a new, unnecessary HLV that really worries me.

Justin Hartberger
Guest
Justin Hartberger
May 25, 2011 5:09 PM
I think the idea of a capsule is all well and fine…for liftoff and re-entry. IMHO the ISS should have a slew of them docked for escape pod purposes anyway. I feel they would be much better served with an actual space vehicle – one that’s designed not to leave space – and incorporate the capsules as part of a LM/return system for the ship while it’s on a mission. Using them as the primary vehicle instead of just what they’re best suited for seems a bit silly. A little speed boat may be the best suited for getting in and out of the harbor, but I’m sure as heck not going to ride that thing across the… Read more »
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