Building the Future of Spaceflight

Here’s a very cool “music video” showing the ongoing progress being made on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the next-generation vehicle for human space travel beyond low-Earth orbit.

Although the MPCV may resemble Apollo-era capsules, its technology and capability are light years apart. The MPCV features dozens of technology advancements and innovations incorporated into the spacecraft’s subsystem and component design.

From careful assembly of the smallest parts to the dramatic tests of the rocket launch abort system, this video shows how much expertise, talent and just plain hard work is being invested in the future of human spaceflight by NASA as well as many industry-leading experts around the country!

Read more about the Orion MPCV program here.

3 Replies to “Building the Future of Spaceflight”

  1. I am from the “if it looks ugly, it works ugly” school of engineering. And that craft manages to do what Apollo or LEM never did, look ugly. Even the capsule has taken the Apollo exciting lines out, to make for more room.

    As a minor point, I realize that they want to show that other (economically) ugly, SLS. But if they were sincere about safety and “record of reliability” after STS they would try to minimize using it for manned launches.

    Other than that, yeah, make it so!

  2. Wow, that emergency system is rather huge!

    And music really sounds like from BSG series 🙂

  3. Speaking of economically ugly, I stumbled on something interesting. It describes a report where NASA itself admits that a commercial approach cuts cost.

    How much? Try a factor of 10! They visit SpaceX and makes (pre- and post-) estimates of costs of launch vehicles between cost plus fee NASA projects and fixed prize inhouse development.

    – NASA estimates that Falcon 9 cost SpaceX ~ 0.4 GUSD to develop.

    – SpaceX estimates that subcontracting costs ~ 3 – 5 times as much as inhouse development. Not surprisingly then, NASA estimates their approach to cost ~ 1.4 GUSD if SpaceX had used it. That is, some inhouse development makes a cost plus fee subcontracting ~ 3 times as expensive.

    – Finally, NASA estimates that if _they_ would build a Falcon 9 with cost plus fee, it would cost them ~ 4 GUSD.

    What makes the inefficiency go up another factor of ~ 3 they don’t say, but one can make informed guesses:

    * They still use the “buy all we can now, ask for more money later” strategy that the Augustine report criticized. NASA has officially described that very approach for SLS.

    Now I have to start guessing:

    – It is a good technical project strategy to invest as early as possible to finish as early as possible. But it may be that they develop into dead ends that they have to modify later.

    Incidentally that is exactly what is supposed to be avoided in the “flexible” cost plus fee approach!

    – There are financial drawbacks with using up money as a child in front of a candy store instead of investing it while you can’t make good use in the project. But my eyes glaze over when economics enter the stage, and I have to trust what they say here.

    * Any remaining deficit would be attributable to political and business pork leeches.

    The comparison table between firm fixed price and cost plus fee is interesting too. What they need to make a launcher is “stable requirements”. But apparently that worked for SpaceX.

    Early cost estimates place the core SLS at 11.5 GUSD. Another 14 GUSD was and is used (of which 5 GUSD is already spent on the MPCV we see above) to finalizing the MPCV (~ 7 GUSD) and launch systems (~ 2 GUSD). Add boosters (for 18 – 11.5 – 2 = 4.5 GUSD !?) and you can fly.

    The core SLS is ~ 7 times as powerful as Falcon 9 when the boosters are added on (launches ~ 70 ton to LEO compared to ~ 10 ton), so it is likely roughly equivalent to the Falcon 9 in thrust. (Looking at the STS combo, the Shuttle engines delivered about as much thrust as a Falcon 9.)

    That is another factor 2-3 in cost difference. Someone must be drowning in pork here.

    [Especially is the leaked report on SLS is true: the final system will cost upwards 60 GUSD to take it to 2015 according to the initially planned activities.]

    Hmpf! It is a pity the Falcon 9 engines aren’t pre-burn engines so waste some few percent fuel. With 5m load fairings NASA could have bough Falcon-9 (or Delta’s, for that matter) as cores at some 0.05 – 0.1 GUSD a pop,* _and_ get away from the LH business. Only it had lowered the final lift capacity too.

    * I guess a potential cost reduction with a factor 100 (or more!) seems invalid. But that is what the numbers gives.

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