Could Orion be Downgraded from a Six to Four Astronaut Vehicle?


To save on weight, NASA engineers are considering the option to remove two seats from the Orion crew exploration vehicle. According to the manager of the Constellation Program, a possible redesign option has been discussed with the International Space Station (ISS) partners despite the fact that the initial operational capability (IOC) to deliver crew to the ISS calls for a six-seat version. Although the space station crew will have expanded to six by the end of next month, NASA is confident the loss of two seats on Orion won’t cause any operational problems… at least we’ll still have Soyuz.

Today, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Constellation Program, due to budget problems, probably won’t be ready for a return trip to the Moon until 2020, two years later than officially planned (NASA hoped for a 2018 mission). Now NASA engineers are concerned that the lunar mission may slip even further behind schedule.

To compound this bad news, NASA is weighing up its options to free up some mass from the initial Orion launches atop the Ares I rocket. This issue arose after Jeff Hanley, manager of the Constellation Program and Orion developer, said the Orion design was within “plus or minus a couple of hundred pounds” of the 21,000-pound maximum for the command module set by a safety requirement to land with only two of the three main parachutes deployed should one fail after reentry.

Right now we’re studying and really on the verge of deciding that we’re going to start with four,” Hanley said. “That gives us a common lunar and ISS version, but we’ve sized the system and have a design for six, so we’ll grow our capability as we need it.” So it’s not all bad news, the first launches may consist of four astronauts, but Orion could be modified to cater for six.

Hanley is keen to point out that although the brand new NASA manned space vehicle may be operating at a reduced capacity, at least Roscosmos will be able to help out. “Our Russian partners are always going to fly Soyuz or something derivative to that, so we’ll have the full coverage of being able to get the crew off the station in a pinch on the Soyuz and in the Orion,” he added. Soyuz is a three-crew space vehicle and is currently used by the space station as a “lifeboat” should an emergency crop up in orbit.

Apparently the Orion weight problem has been around for a while as the design of Orion is based on predicted weights, and not actual launch weight; if the actual weight exceeds that of the safety margin, cutbacks would be required. In this case the cutback may include two crew members.

Hanley points out that although the early Constellation flights may include a four-crew IOC, it would stand NASA in good stead so a good understanding of how well it performs with four seats before the possibility of expanding it to six.

Source: Aviation Week

25 Replies to “Could Orion be Downgraded from a Six to Four Astronaut Vehicle?”

  1. Pay Chrysler or GM to build some Stow-N-Go seating…. ?? or make the Parachutes bigger/more efficient??

    I don’t see the problem.

  2. at this point , maybe we should consider creating a GLOBAL SPACE AGENCY …

    it’s sad to hear that they will delay moon landing further , becouse of money 🙁
    but then again we are in economic shit so…
    oh well , i’m sure something will soon happen to cataliyze the race to the moon and space :p

    maybe a chinese moon mission ^^

  3. As if replacing the shuttle with 60s-era capsules isn’t humiliating enough. Part of NASA’s mission is to inspire, for goodness sake.

  4. If they choose a 4 man capsule from the start, they could have gone with a winged CEV made from carbon fiber.
    Easier to recover and better looking… altho thats not really important.

    There is nothing wrong with a capsule. Wings don’t add much to spaceflight.
    The problem is this infectious mission creep that NASA has been inflicted with ever since the end of Apollo.

    Yes the capsules can be upgraded or replaced without affecting the Ares I boost system much… but I fear that the Block I version of Orion will somehow become the standard once people forget we asked for a 7 man capsule at the start.

    With the Russians looking to upgrade to a 6 man vehicle, we’ll end up having similar systems.
    At which point our costs better be similar or this could get pretty damn embarrasing.

  5. So let me get this straight? 40 years ago, we landed people on the moon, an achievement that took about ten years to get done. 40 years later, after the U.S. government/Nasa decides to do it again, its going to take longer? Can’t China just say they are going within 5 years? I’m sure if that happened, we would be there in 2 becuase of the fire lit under Congress’s behind. Think of all the technological advances in the past 40 years. I’m sure that i’m not the only one who thinks 2020 is unacceptable. I also know that this isn’t NASA’s fault. It’s the money holders in Washington. What a bunch of Jerk-offs. Give NASA whatever they need, don’t relegate them to after-thought status or political pawn.

  6. Why not just use the Ares V for both. It deff has the lifting abilities. And would save money in the long run by just having to build one type of rocket instead of two totaly different systems.

  7. @:Al “So let me get this straight? 40 years ago, we landed people on the moon, an achievement that took about ten years to get done.”

    Just FYI, the total cost of the apollo project was $135 billion (in 2005 dollars).

    NASA requested $1.7 billion for the Constellation program for 2008, but Congress gave them only $980 million.

    At that yearly rate, it would take more than 100 years for Constellation to equal the funding that Apollo had. I’m sure that the yearly amount will go up when the shuttle is retired, but that should put some of this into perspective for you.

    No bucks = no Buck Rogers.

  8. @USSDRAKE1968: “Why not just use the Ares V for both.”

    Because then you have man-rate the Ares V, which makes it heavier, which makes it carry less payload, which makes it more expensive.

    The idea behind Constellation, which is a spectacularly good idea, is that you man-rate the smallest rocket that you can live with. The rocket that caries people should be small, uncomplicated, and safe. Then you have another rocket for cargo, but that rocket doesn’t need all the same redundancies and such that a man-rated rocket would need.

    It’s like the difference between a small car and a dump truck. The car needs air bags and anti-lock brakes and crumple zones. Those things are expensive. If you had to put those things in a dump truck, the dump truck would be *really* expensive. And if someone told you, “hey I’ve got an idea, let’s drive the kids to soccer practice in a dump truck” you would recognize that as a bad idea (unless you own a Hummer)

  9. It is just soooo endemic to our Government that Politics is what actually determines our Science! First we miss the boat by being without *any* manned space vehicle for a number of years, and now we downgrade the upcoming vehicle.
    I fear that those budget conscious politicos are going to leave us bereft of *any* manned Space exploration. Which truly is biting our noses to spite our faces.

  10. I would use some colourful metaphors to describe my feelings on this.

    But lets be positive, so I’ll say in good old Irish fashion, ‘Best of Luck’ to Nasa on this one.

  11. In Universe Today article entitled “Obama Will Retire Shuttle in 2010, US Will Go Back to the Moon in 2020″ of the February 27th, 2009, I stated the following;

    “Good news. Barring any unforeseen mishap, my bet is that America with go back to the moon in 2024, and that the Chinese will get there earlier in 2022.
    The greatest concern is the origin of the finance to continue to fund the project, and the worrying ever increasing debt of the U.S. economy.”

    Good to see that this prediction might be more likely than the obviously seemingly impossible 2020 date. For me the date was only made by a posturing U.S.A. hanging onto the glory days of the past in the view of matching the Chinese planned missions in the same year.
    For me, nothing has really changed at all, but however, now I would consider that even the Chinese might be landing on the moon a little later.
    In all it is bit of a joke pulled to make America seem more prominent again new challengers from many other ‘foreign’ countries.

    In the end, I suppose we get there when we get there!

  12. I fear the problem really is the Ares I launcher, that has widely been discussed by non-NASA folks as being “weak”. Griffen is married to Ares, sadly, when Atlas V, Delta IV, or could do the job sooner and cheaper. Orion gaining weight was expected, Ares i being weak was well-known….

  13. sooo… they downgrade to 4 seats, then find they need to carry some extra equipment, so they take a seat out

    congratulations NASA, you just created an Apollo capsule, actually, you have one of those at Kennedy space centre, why not just use that?

    pathetic, 30+ years on and Grandads still chasing you kids off his lawn

    Apollo …. lunar lander, service module, eagle,re-entry capsule, 3 seats

    Orion …. seven seats…er six….er four…errrrr (watch this space)

    maybe if they took up engineering as profession and did it properly they could get rid of six tons of oscillating weights,batteries,electronics and motors

    what sort of lame-ass “solution” is that?

    it`s the sort of solution you get from clueless, uninterested university graduates, thats what it is, oscillating weights FFS.


    I think Americas get-up-and-go got up and went……….

  14. I understand that neither it nor its launcher has flown yet and weight growth is an issue where designing any new flying machine is concerned, but still, Falcon-9/Dragon is looking better every day…

    “at this point , maybe we should consider creating a GLOBAL SPACE AGENCY …”

    An even bigger bureaucracy. Yeah, that’ll help.

  15. just pay spacex to go there thaey have the falcon 9 and the man rated dragon capsule done aND ready for first flights this year and at a fraction of the cost of nasa, so take thier rocket and capsule then take nasas moon lander/ base and kick the tires and light the fires!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. NASA used to inspire…now it’s back to the future…makes me sad to think that with all our technology how little we have progressed. Kennedy set out to do something that had never been done, and we did it in under 10 years…since then we have languished. Our new goal…a re-run will take longer… and to the layman, not be terribly different. Where are the dreamers?

  17. ““at this point , maybe we should consider creating a GLOBAL SPACE AGENCY …”

    An even bigger bureaucracy. Yeah, that’ll help.”

    maybe u’re wright , but it’s going to happen at some point.. even a formal protocol for space .. some sort of colaboration..

  18. I love space exploration, for all sorts of reasons. I’d like to see lots of money/resources invested in it and anything to do with exploring our universe. On the other hand, US national debt is now 11 trillion dollars, and UK’s is 1 trillion pounds. I don’t know what the right amount should be for a space budget, but it’s going to be a very frugal few decades.

  19. The delay/reduced seating is a real shame. I wonder if the political will is really there (it is certainly not on a par with the JFK era).

    Perhaps we would get much more science out of unmanned missions…. Just look at the success of the MERs, Cassini-Huygens, Galileo, Phoenix and the Voyagers. Many on time and on budget, functioning years after their primary missions.

    The concern is that NASA will keep putting a launch date back for Orion well into the third decade. If it takes most of the funds, we’ll end up with little unmanned exploration and thus little science, little inspiration, just a very late, over budget program to a body we’ve visited many times before.

    But perhaps that’s just me – I’m far more interested in such things as Venus, Mars, Europa, Titan, etc. and space telescopes like TPF etc.!

  20. NASA should leave the ISS transport to the SpaceX and others! They’re so frustratingly inefficient with these things.

    Go to the moon alreadyyy.. Enough flying in circles for one generation

  21. Delta IV Heavy/ Atlas V Heavy would be capable of lifting Orion for both ISS and lunar missions, and could be ready to go for ~2.05 billion dollars. See here:

    The money saved from not throwing it down the pit called Ares 1 could then be funneled to early development work on Ares V and Altair. Hopefully the next administrator will look at this and conclude that Griffin was full of crap. Admittedly most of NASA’s woes aren’t their fault, it’s d-bag politicians and beaurocrats who are to blame.

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