Basic facts about Orion, the new NASA crew exploration vehicle
Image above: Exploded view of Orion.
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.
- The first generation of Moon explorers went to the Moon using the Apollo spacecraft, what will the next generation of Moon explorers use?
- The first lunar program was called the Apollo Program, what is the new program called?
- The Constellation Program, though it will involve exploration in the solar system as well.
- When does NASA plan to start using the new Orion vehicle?
- When does NASA plan to send the next astronauts for a landed lunar mission?
- No later than 2010. The last manned mission to the Moon took place in 1972 with Apollo 17.
- What will Orion be capable of?
- capable of carrying crew and cargo to the space station (see picture)
- to rendezvous with a lunar landing module
- an Earth departure stage in low-Earth orbit to carry crews to the moon
- the Earth entry vehicle for lunar and Mars returns
- How similar with the Orion design be to the old Apollo technology and design?
- Orion’s design will borrow its shape from the capsules of the past, but takes advantage of 21st century technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems.
- Will the Orion have a heat shield like Apollo?
- The Apollo-style heat shield is the best understood shape for re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, especially when returning directly from the moon. Orion will be 5 meters (16.5 feet) in diameter and have a mass of about 22.7 metric tons (25 tons). Inside, it will have more than two-and-a-half times the volume of an Apollo capsule.
- How many crew will Orion be able to carry?
- The larger size will allow Orion to accommodate four crew members on missions to the moon, and six on missions to the International Space Station or Mars-bound spacecraft.
- How many modules will make up the Orion?
- The Launch Abort System – A launch abort system (see picture) atop the Orion capsule will be capable of pulling the spacecraft and its crew to safety in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or at any time during ascent. Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is leading development of the Orion launch abort system.
- The Crew Module – see picture – Johnson Space Center is leading development of Orion’s crew module.
- The Service Module – Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, is leading development of the Orion service module and spacecraft adapter.
- The Spacecraft Adapter – A spacecraft adapter will connect the Orion capsule and service module to the launch systems.
- Will the Orion be susceptible to debris falling from any part of the rocket during launch?
- To maximize the crew’s safety, Orion and its abort system will be placed at the top of the Ares I rocket. The rest of the two-stage Ares I will be stacked vertically, below the crew vehicle. This design will virtually eliminate the possibility of debris from the booster striking Orion during ascent.
- How long will the Orion be able to be docked at the ISS?
- Orion will be able to remain docked to the station for up to six months, providing a means for the crew to return to Earth at any time. Orion will be capable of carrying pressurized cargo to the space station on unpiloted missions (see picture).
- How long will the Orion be allowed to remain in lunar orbit?
- The spacecraft will have the ability to stay in lunar orbit untended for the duration of a lunar surface visit that could be up to six months (see picture).
- What is the major private contractor for designing the Orion?
- Lockheed Martin is NASA’s prime contractor for design, development, testing and construction of Orion.