T-3 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

Officially known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) the vehicle was announced in May 2011.  The design of the vehicle is derived from the cancelled Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle which was to be a part of the Constellation program announced by President Bush in 2004, that program was eventually cancelled by President Obama and the new mission announced.

Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA
Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA

The spacecraft will be made up of two parts, the Command Module (CM), built by Lockheed Martin, where the crew will reside during flight and the Service Module (SM), supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) and built by Airbus Defense and Space, which will provide power and propulsion.  For the EFT-1 flight the Service Module will comprise of the Delta IV upper stage and Orion will rely on batteries to provide power.

The first flight with the ESA provided Service Module is expected on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) currently scheduled for 2018.

Orion is being designed for deep space missions which unlike missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) require a stronger heat shield during re-entry due to the increased speed as the spacecraft approaches the planet.  In addition the vehicle will need to withstand stronger doses of radiation than those visiting LEO which is still somewhat protected by Earth’s atmosphere.  The vehicle is designed along the lines of the old Apollo Command Modules but there the comparison finishes, internally it will have 50% more volume and will be 5.02 meters (16 ft 6 in) in diameter and 3.3 meters (10 ft 10 in) in length, with a mass of about 8.5 metric tons (19,000 lb).  The module is designed to support a crew of 4-6 for up to 21 days of active flight, with an orbital life of six months when combined with another module for longer missions.

Orion’s CM will use advanced technologies, including:

  • “Glass cockpit” digital control systems derived from those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
  • An “autodock” feature, like those of Russian Progress spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, with provision for the flight crew to take over in an emergency. Previous American spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle) have all required manual piloting for docking.
  • Improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet and the unisex “relief tube” used on the space shuttle (whose system was based on that used on Skylab) and the International Space Station (based on the Soyuz, Salyut, and Mir systems). This eliminates the use of the much-hated plastic “Apollo bags” used by the Apollo crews.
  • A nitrogen/oxygen (N2/O2) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (101.3 kPa or 14.69 psi) or slightly reduced (55.2 to 70.3 kPa or 8.01 to 10.20 psi) pressure.
  • Much more advanced computers than on previous crewed spacecraft.
NASA has announced that it will conduct an unmanned test flight called the Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1 in 2014. Image Credit: NASA.gov
Artists rendering of the Orion Spacecraft in orbit with the Delta IV upper stage. Image Credit: NASA.gov

Next update tomorrow we will look at the Goals of the test flight.

Information for this article was gather from NASA and the 
Orion wikipedia page.

T-4 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

800px-Exploration_Flight_Test-1_insigniaA few days from now the first flight of NASA’s new crewed space vehicle Orion is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral. The mission called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) will not be a crewed test flight and is designed to test out the Orion systems and heat shield. For this mission the capsule will be carried to space on top of a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket from space launch complex 37B. Future missions will be carried to orbit by NASA Space Launch System (SLS).

Over the next week we will explore the Orion spacecraft, the goals of the test flight, the future for Orion and the SLS rocket.

Next update tomorrow we will look at the Orion spacecraft.

TMA-15M arrives at International Space Station #ISS

Following a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station, the crew of TMA-15M Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti have arrived safely, a series of leak checks will now be performed before the hatches between the two vehicles can be opened and the crew can enter the station.

Below are screen grabs of the approach and docking

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Expedition 42 crew launched successfully

This afternoon Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti began there six hour, four orbit journey to the International Space Station.  Launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-15M liftoff occurred on time at 14:01 pm EST.  Docking and hatch opening will occur later today, we will post again following each event.

Below are some screen captures from the launch

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CCtCap is Back On

cctcapOn Oct. 9, under statutory authority available to it, NASA has decided to proceed with the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. notwithstanding the bid protest filed at the U.S. Government Accountability Office by Sierra Nevada Corporation. The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, jeopardizes continued operation of the ISS, would delay meeting critical crew size requirements, and may result in the U.S. failing to perform the commitments it made in its international agreements.

These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended. NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts that will enable safe and reliable travel to and from the ISS from the United States on American spacecraft and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

CCtCap on HOLD

Due to the appeal by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of the CCtCap awards to Boeing and SpaceX both companies have been told to stop any work until the appeal process has been completed.

SNC filed a complaint on 26th Sept 2014 with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), while full details of the complaint are not currently available the general summary appears to be related to irregularities with the selection process and the fact that their bid was $900m less than Boeing’s.  The GAO has 100 days to review and rule on the appeal, at present there is no way to know what they could decide, at the minimum they could rule there is no basis in the complaint at worse they could rule that the contracts are invalid and require the process to be done again.

So what impact does this have on the Commercial Crew program for NASA.  Depending on the GAO’s decision it could either result in a slight delay or at worse could push Commercial Crew into 2018 or beyond.  This would almost certainly mean that NASA would also have to negotiate more seats on Soyuz to cover the delay which based on the last cost increase could run at more than $80m a seat.

What if GAO rules one of the contracts is invalid?  Well that would almost certainly guarantee an appeal by whoever’s contract is invalidated which could drag out the process even further.

The Irony in all this is clearly based on the SNC/Stratolaunch System’s announcement made just yesterday SNC has no plans to abandon the Dream Chaser program and while we are sure having $3.3b would go a long way to complete this they most likely could have found funding elsewhere.

The same goes for SpaceX they clearly have plans that go well beyond just providing Dragon V2 for NASA and again the $2.6b will help realize these goals faster then if they had to fund the development themselves.

Finally Boeing did indicate that if they didn’t get the award they would be laying off workers, whether they would abandon CST-100 is really unknown as there have been indications that they might have or still might consider competing for the CRS2 Cargo contracts which was announced recently.

It seems to us that the only people who will lose out in the mess is NASA and the Taxpayer, NASA because they will potentially be reliant on Russia for longer and Taxpayer because we will have to foot the bill of the appeal process and any changes to the contracts resulting form the appeal.

 

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reaches Mars

Following a ten month, 442 million miles journey NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) successfully entered into orbit of Mars this evening.  The orbit insertion maneuver began with six thruster engines firing briefly to damp out deviations in pointing. Then, the six main engines quickly ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be captured in an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours.

2014-09-21_114613

MAVEN will now spend 6 weeks being commissioned before it begins it primary science mission.

The following instruments are being carried by MAVEN.

MAVEN_Instruments_Labeled_v2

  • Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) – measures the composition and isotopes of thermal neutrals and ions.
  • Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) – is a part of the Remote Sensing (RS) Package and measures global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere via remote sensing.
  • Magnetometer (MAG) – measures interplanetary solar wind and ionosphere magnetic fields
  • Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) – measures solar wind and ionosphere electrons
  • SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) – measures thermal ions to moderate-energy escaping ions
  • Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna (LPW) – determines ionosphere properties and wave heating of escaping ions and solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) input to atmosphere
  • Solar Energetic Particles (SEP) – determines the impact of SEPs on the upper atmosphere
  • Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) – measures solar wind and magnetosheath ion density and velocity

 

Exciting times in Space

A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.

Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.

SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS.  Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this.  See my full article on the awards here.

ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas.  Full article include specs can be found here.

Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive.  They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.

ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission.  This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet.  For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.

First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space.  The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable.  For more information on the printer check out this page.  We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.

 

CCtCap awards announced

launch-02_0
Image Credit: NASA

Today at 4pm EDT from Kennedy Space Center NASA announced the winners of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts.

And the winners are:

CST-100
Image Credit: Boeing

Boeing – The CST-100 capsule seen to the right has been awarded $4.2 billion of the money.  Over the next three years Boeing will have to complete a number of milestones below to prove that the CST-100 capsule can indeed deliver crew to the ISS.

While the CST-100, according to Boeing, can be launched on multiple rockets they have selected to use the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.

This will bring Boeing’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program to $4.77 billion.

Image Credit: SpaceX
Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX – The Dragon V2 again seen on the right has also been awarded a contract of $2.6 billion allowing NASA to have a two options for the CCtCap process.

At the time of writing SpaceX have not completed their pad or launch abort tests from the CCiCap contract, however they are scheduled to be completed in the next six months and there should be no reason that SpaceX couldn’t be ready before 2017.

This will bring SpaceX’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program $3.11 billion

Each company will have to pass five certification milestones as well as a number of others that they themselves have selected, payment will be based on the different milestones.  We will bring you news of these milestones once the information has been been made available.

Under the contracts awarded today both companies will perform one demo flight each and a maximum of six crewed missions to the station carrying four crew members each time, they also include some money towards additional studies.  With the introduction of the Dragon V2 and CST-100 NASA have also announced that the space station will move from a six member crew to seven members allow more research to be performed.

The award amounts are based on the paperwork that was submitted during the process by each company and both have to meet the same goals laid out by NASA.  Basically SpaceX will be achieving the same goals for 62% the cost that Boeing will.

In summary this is what we hoped would happen, two competitors have been selected and the next few years are going to be exciting for US manned spaceflight, we are another step closer to returning crewed flight to US soil and despite the fact that one of the competitors is still reliant on Russian engines to get into orbit that may change too as news of a partnership between ULA and Blue Origin to be announced tomorrow could see the RD-180 replaced, we will bring new of that announcement as soon as we have it.

At present we have no news on what will happen to the Dream Chaser program at SNC, when we have further information it will be made available here.

Will SLS ever fly

Following on from my previous article I wanted to explore the possibility that the Space Launch System (SLS) may never actually fly.

While progress has been made on the SLS it will not be ready to fly when President Barack Obama leaves office and given that he cancelled the Constellation Program (CxP) when he came to office it is quite likely that whoever takes office in 2017 could look at how much has been spent on SLS and decide to cancel it too.  Thankfully we believe that the Commercial Crew program will be far enough along that it won’t be cancelled but there is no guarantee.

So what happens if SLS is cancelled?

1) The US would have spent close to $25 billion on CxP and SLS by the time it is cancelled (including Orion and Ground support work).  While elements of the work could be used on a new program it is likely that some of the money would have been wasted.

2) Depending what direction the new President decided the new launcher for NASA could be many years away.

3) NASA would be dependent on Commercial Crew or Russia to launch people to orbit, while that would be the case for International Space Station (ISS) anyway this would also apply to any other missions before an alternate is available.

What do we hope happens?

1) That SLS is cancelled, despite how much has been “invested” in the program we feel that the system is just too expensive to ever fly.  We have heard estimates that each flight could cost $2-3b but at present there just isn’t enough data to know for certain.

2) That any new direction decided would make use of the Commercial partners that are already providing services to NASA.  SpaceX have plans for Falcon Heavy which would have the largest payload capacity of any rocket currently available and they are already working on engines for a successor to that.  The three competitors in the Commercial Crew Program Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX all have vehicles that can carry as many as seven passengers to orbit.  SpaceX’s long term goals are to travel to Mars which means they will have vehicles in the future that can make the journey.

3) That whatever plan is decided on by the President is based on feedback from the citizen’s of the US, either via a Survey or by putting together a team of non government experts who could layout a course that benefits everyone, a decadal survey for manned space flight.

4) Whatever plan is adopted needs to at least have started flying within a single Presidential term so that it is much harder to cancel when the next President takes office.

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