Commercial Resupply Contracts 2

Last September NASA released a request for proposals (RFP) for a second record of contracts to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024. The proposals were due by November 14 with the awards expected in May this year. At the time of the RFP both Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) and SpaceX were flying cargo missions to ISS, however in October the third flight of Orbital’s manifest suffered a catastrophic failure resulting in the lost of the vehicle and reducing NASA to a single supplier for most of this year. This has caused NASA to have to change what is flown on SpaceX missions to compensate for the lose.

With CRS2 it is expected that both Orbital and SpaceX supplied bids however they were not the only ones with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Sierra Nevada indicating they have submitted bids.

There are definite advantages to increasing the field of suppliers to the ISS not least of which is the ability to better handle accidents during launch. Another advantage is beyond NASA and ISS as each new supplier brings competition to the market and longer team should help reduce costs for other customers. This will become increasingly important and we look beyond ISS (link). Depending on the supplier there will be other advantages too, if Sierra or Boeing are selected then there will be additional down mass from ISS something only SpaceX is able to offer today.

However there clearly are dis-advantages to having new suppliers too. Any new supplier would have to be certified to bring supplies to ISS, this will incur additional costs for NASA and the supplier. Also we don’t know when the other suppliers will be ready to supply the station, while the contracts are being awarded this May and are not due to start until 2018 they would still need to show progress to ensure NASA has the continue supply line they need.

There is also the concern that four of the five suppliers are launching their vehicles using Russian made RD-180/181 rocket engines, which with the political climate at the moment could prove to be a problem longer term. We know that United Launch Alliance (ULA) who will be providing launch services for three suppliers are planning to move away from the RD-180 engine, however this is not going to happen until at least 2019 and would require certification before actual launches could be performed, which ULA’s Tory Bruno has said could take until 2022-23, so almost the end of the CRS2 contract.

Check back in May to see who the contracts have been awarded to.

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.