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Orion (spacecraft)

This article is about NASA's crew vehicle. For other spacecraft and rockets called Orion, see [[Orion (disambiguation)#Astronautics#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.Orion in astronautics]].

Role: Beyond LEO spacecraft.[1]
Crew: 0–4[2]
Launch vehicle: Space Launch System,

Delta IV (Exploration Flight Test 1),

Ares I (cancelled)

First launch: December 5, 2014 (uncrewed test launch)[3][4][5][6]
Height: Approximately 3.3  m (10.83 ft)
Diameter: 5 m (16.5 ft)
Pressurized volume: Script error: No such module "convert". [7]
Habitable volume: Script error: No such module "convert". [7]
Capsule mass: 8,913 kg (19,650 lb)
Service Module mass: 12,337 kg (27,198 lb)
Total mass: 21,250 kg (46,848 lb)
Service module propellant mass: 7,907 kg (17,433 lb)
Total delta-v: ~1340 m/s (4,390 ft/s) [2]
Endurance: 21.1 days[8]

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is a spacecraft intended to carry a crew of up to four[2] astronauts to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently under development by NASA[9] for launch on the Space Launch System,[10] Orion is currently intended to facilitate human exploration of asteroids and of Mars, as well as to provide a means of delivering or retrieving crew or supplies from the ISS if needed.[11]

The MPCV was announced by NASA on May 24, 2011.[11] Its design is based on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle from the cancelled Constellation program.[12] It has two main modules. The Orion command module is being built by Lockheed Martin at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.[13] The Orion Service Module, provided by the European Space Agency,[14][15] is being built by Airbus Defence and Space.

The MPCV's first test flight (uncrewed), known as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), was launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on December 5, 2014 on a flight lasting 4 hours and 24 minutes, landing at its target in the Pacific Ocean at 10:29 Central[3][4][16][17] (delayed from the previous day due to technical and weather problems[18]). The first mission to carry astronauts is not expected to take place until 2021 at the earliest.[19]


Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)

On January 14, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) as part of the Vision for Space Exploration.[20] The CEV was partly a reaction to the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, the subsequent findings and report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), and the White House's review of the American space program. The CEV effectively replaced the conceptual Orbital Space Plane (OSP), which itself was proposed after the cancellation of the Lockheed Martin X-33 program to produce a replacement for the space shuttle. As the Vision for Space Exploration was developed into the Constellation program under NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, the Crew Exploration Vehicle was renamed the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, after the constellation of the same name.[21]

Constellation proposed using the Orion CEV in both crew and cargo variants to support the International Space Station and as a crew vehicle for a return to the Moon. The Apollo-like design included a service module for life support and propulsion and was originally intended to land on solid ground on the US west coast using airbags, but later changed to ocean splashdown.[22] The Orion CEV was to weigh about 25 tons (23 metric tons), less than the 33 ton (30 metric tons) Apollo command/service module. The crew module would weigh about 9.8 tons (8.9 metric tons), greater than the equivalent Apollo command module at 6.4 tons (5.8 metric tons). With a diameter of 16.5 feet (5 meters) as opposed to 12.8 feet (3.9 meters), it provided 2.5 times greater volume.[23] The service module was originally planned to use liquid methane (LCH4) as its fuel, but switched to hypergolic propellants due to the infancy of oxygen/methane-powered rocket technologies and the goal of launching the Orion CEV by 2012.[24][25]

The Orion CEV design consisted of two main parts: a conical crew module (CM) and a cylindrical service module (SM) holding the spacecraft's propulsion system and expendable supplies. Both were based substantially on the Apollo command and service modules (Apollo CSM) flown between 1967 and 1975.[26]

The Orion CEV was to be launched on an Ares I rocket to low Earth orbit, where it would rendezvous with the Altair lunar surface access module (LSAM) launched on a heavy-lift Ares V launch vehicle for lunar missions.

Cancellation of Constellation program

On May 7, 2009 the Obama administration enlisted the Augustine Commission to perform a full independent review of the ongoing NASA space exploration program. The commission found the then current Constellation Program to be woefully underbudgeted, behind schedule by 4 years or more in several essential components, with significant cost overruns, and unlikely to be capable of meeting any of its current scheduled goals under its current budget.[27][28] As a consequence, the commission recommended a significant re-allocation of goals and resources. As one of the many outcomes based on these recommendations, on October 11, 2010, the Constellation program was cancelled, ending development of the Altair, Ares I, and Ares V. The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle survived the cancellation and was renamed the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), to be launched on the Space Launch System.[29]

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)

Through the program restructuring from Constellation to Post Constellation, the Orion development program moved from the development of three different versions of the Orion capsule, each for a different task,[30] to the development of a single version capable of performing multiple tasks.[2] On October 30, 2014, the somewhat redesigned Multi-Purpose spacecraft completed its first Flight Readiness Review (FRR), allowing the vehicle to be integrated with the Delta IV rocket and readied for launch. On December 5, 2014 it was successfully launched into space and retrieved at sea after splashdown on the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), marking NASA's re-entry into the business of designing and producing new crewed spacecraft.[31][32]


The Orion MPCV takes basic design elements from the Apollo Command Module that took astronauts to the moon, but its technology and capability are more advanced. It is designed to support long-duration deep space missions, with up to 21 days active crew time plus 6 months quiescent.[33] During the quiescent period crew life support would be provided by another module such as a Deep Space Habitat. The spacecraft's life support, propulsion, thermal protection and avionics systems are designed to be upgradeable as new technologies become available.

The MPCV spacecraft includes both crew and service modules, and a spacecraft adaptor.

The MPCV's crew module is larger than Apollo's and can support more crew members for short or long-duration missions. The service module fuels and propels the spacecraft as well as storing oxygen and water for astronauts. The service module's structure is also being designed to provide locations to mount scientific experiments and cargo.

Crew module (CM)

File:MACES in Orion mock-up.3.jpg
Interior of the Orion mock-up in October 2014.
File:Orion parachute test.jpg
Test of Orion's parachute system in July 2012.

The Orion crew module (CM) is the reusable transportation capsule that provides a habitat for the crew, provides storage for consumables and research instruments, and serves as the docking port for crew transfers.[34] The crew module is the only part of the MPCV that returns to Earth after each mission and is a 57.5° frustum shape, similar to that of the Apollo command module. As projected, the CM will be Script error: No such module "convert". in diameter and Script error: No such module "convert". in length,[35] with a mass of about Script error: No such module "convert".. It was manufactured by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.[36] It will have more than 50% more volume than the Apollo capsule, which had an interior volume of Script error: No such module "convert"., and will carry four to six astronauts.[37] After extensive study, NASA has selected the Avcoat ablator system for the Orion crew module. Avcoat, which is composed of silica fibers with a resin in a honeycomb made of fiberglass and phenolic resin, was previously used on the Apollo missions and on select areas of the space shuttle for early flights.[38]

Orion's CM will use advanced technologies, including:

  • "Glass cockpit" digital control systems derived from those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.[39]
  • 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 (Template:Chem/atomTemplate:Chem/atom/Template:Chem/atomTemplate:Chem/atom) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (Script error: No such module "convert".) or slightly reduced (Script error: No such module "convert".) pressure.
  • Much more advanced computers than on previous crew vehicles.

The CM will be constructed of the aluminium-lithium alloy used on the shuttle's external tank, and on the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. The CM itself will be covered in the same Nomex felt-like thermal protection blankets used on parts on the shuttle not subject to critical heating, such as the payload bay doors. The reusable recovery parachutes will be based on the parachutes used on both the Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, and will also use the same Nomex cloth for construction. Water landings will be the exclusive means of recovery for the Orion CM.[22][40]

To allow Orion to mate with other vehicles it will be equipped with the NASA Docking System, which is somewhat similar to the APAS-95 docking mechanism used on the Shuttle fleet. The spacecraft will employ a Launch Escape System (LES) like that used in Mercury and Apollo, along with an Apollo-derived "Boost Protective Cover" (made of fiberglass), to protect the Orion CM from aerodynamic and impact stresses during the first 2 12 minutes of ascent. Its designers claim that the MPCV is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and reentry than the Space Shuttle.[41] The CM is designed to be refurbished and reused. In addition, all of the Orion's component parts have been designed to be as generic as possible, so that between the craft's first test flight in 2014 and its projected Mars voyage in the 2030s, the spacecraft can be upgraded as new technologies become available.[34]

ATV-based service module (ESM)

Main article: Orion Service Module
File:Orion Service Module.jpg
Orion spacecraft including the ATV-derived service module with a propulsion stage attached at the back

In May 2011 the ESA director general announced a possible collaboration with NASA to work on a successor to the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle).[42] On June 21, 2012, Airbus Defence and Space announced that they had been awarded two separate studies, each worth €6.5 million, to evaluate the possibilities of using technology and experience gained from ATV and Columbus related work for future missions. The first looked into the possible construction of a service module which would be used in tandem with the Orion capsule.[43] The second examined the possible production of a versatile multi purpose orbital vehicle.[44]

On November 21, 2012, the ESA decided to develop an ATV-derived service module for the Orion MPCV.[45] The service module will likely be manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, Germany.[46]

ESA's contribution is going to be critical to the success of Orion's 2017 mission

—NASA Orion Program manager[14]

NASA announced on January 16, 2013 that the ESA service module will fly on Exploration Mission 1, the debut launch of the Space Launch System.[14]

Launch Abort System (LAS)

In the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent, a launch escape system called the Launch Abort System (LAS) will separate the crew module from the launch vehicle using a solid rocket-powered launch abort motor (AM), which will produce more thrust (though for a much shorter duration) than the Atlas 109-D booster that launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.[47] There are two other propulsion systems in the LAS stack: the attitude control motor (ACM) and the jettison motor (JM). On July 10, 2007, Orbital Sciences, the prime contractor for the LAS, awarded Alliant Techsystems (ATK) a $62.5 million sub-contract to, "design, develop, produce, test and deliver the launch abort motor." ATK, which had the prime contract for the first stage of the Ares I rocket, intended to use a "reverse flow" design for the motor.[48] On July 9, 2008, NASA announced that ATK had completed a vertical test stand at a facility in Promontory, Utah to test launch abort motors for the Orion spacecraft.[49] Another long-time space motor contractor, Aerojet, was awarded the jettison motor design and development contract for the LAS. As of September 2008, Aerojet has, along with team members Orbital Sciences, Lockheed Martin and NASA, successfully demonstrated two full-scale test firings of the jettison motor. This motor is important to every flight in that it functions to pull the LAS tower away from the vehicle after a successful launch. The motor also functions in the same manner for an abort scenario.

Existing craft and mockups

  • The Boilerplate Test Article (BTA) underwent splashdown testing at the Hydro Impact Basin of NASA's Langley Research Center. This same test article has been modified to support Orion Recovery Testing in the Stationary and Underway recovery tests.[53] The BTA contains over 150 sensors to gather data on its test drops.[54] Testing of the 18,000 pound mockup ran from July 2011 to January 6, 2012.[55]
  • The Ground Test Article (GTA) stack, located at Lockheed Martin in Denver, is undergoing vibration testing.[56] It is made up by the Orion Ground Test Vehicle (GTV) combined with its Launch Abort System (LAS). Further testing will see the addition of service module simulator panels and Thermal Protection System (TPS) to the GTA stack.[57]
File:Orion Drop Test on Feb 29.jpg
The Orion Drop Test Article during a test on February 29, 2012
  • The Drop Test Article (DTA), also known as the Drop Test Vehicle (DTV) is undergoing test drops at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The mock Orion parachute compartment is dropped from an altitude of 25,000 feet from a C-130.[57] Testing began in 2007. Drogue chutes deploy around 20,000 and 15,000 feet. Testing of the reefing staged parachutes includes partial failure instances including partial opening and complete failure of one of the three main parachutes. With only two chutes deployed the DTA lands at 33 feet per second, the maximum touchdown speed for Orion's design.[58] Other related test vehicles include the now-defunct Orion Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) and its replacement the Generation II Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV2). The drop test program has had several failures in 2007, 2008, and 2010.[59] The new PTV was successfully tested February 29, 2012 deploying from a C-17. Ten drag chutes will drag the mock up's pallet from the aircraft for the drop at 25,000 feet. The landing parachute set of eight is known as the Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS).[60] The test examined air flow disturbance behind the mimicked full size vehicle and its effects on the parachute system. The PTV landed on the desert floor at 17 mph.[61] A third test vehicle, the PCDTV3, is scheduled for a drop on April 17, 2012. In this testing "The CPAS team continued preparation activities for the Parachute Compartment Drop Test Vehicle (PCDTV3) airdrop test, scheduled for April 17, which will deploy the two drogue parachutes in the highest dynamic pressure environment to date, and will demonstrate a main parachute skipped second stage."[62]


Environmental testing

NASA performed environmental testing of Orion from 2007 to 2011 at the Glenn Research Center Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. The Center's Space Power Facility is the world's largest thermal vacuum chamber.[63]

Launch Abort System (LAS) testing

ATK Aerospace successfully completed the first Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) test on November 20, 2008. The LAS motor could provide Script error: No such module "convert". of thrust in case an emergency situation should arise on the launch pad or during the first Script error: No such module "convert". of the rocket's climb to orbit. The 2008 test firing of the LAS was the first time a motor with reverse flow propulsion technology of this scale had ever been tested.[64][dated info]

On March 2, 2009, a full size, full weight command module mock-up (pathfinder) began its journey from the Langley Research Center to the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for at-gantry launch vehicle assembly training and for LAS testing.[65]

On May 10, 2010, NASA successfully executed the LAS PAD-Abort-1 test at White Sands New Mexico, launching a boilerplate (mock-up) Orion capsule to an altitude of approximately 6000 feet. The test used three solid-fuel rocket motorsTemplate:Spaced ndasha main thrust motor, an attitude control motor and the jettison motor.[66]

Future LAS test plans: As of February 2014, NASA planned to launch the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2) from Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46 in 2018.[67]

Pre-launch Orion splashdown recovery testing

Prior to the first actual test flight and recovery of the Orion space vehicle at sea in December 2014, several preparatory vehicle recovery tests were performed. In 2009 during the Constellation phase of the program, the Post-landing Orion Recovery Test (PORT) was designed to determine and evaluate methods of crew rescue and what kind of motions the astronaut crew could expect after landing. This would include conditions outside the capsule for the recovery team. The evaluation process supported NASA's design of landing recovery operations including equipment, ship and crew necessities.

The Port Test used a full-scale boilerplate (mock-up) of NASA's Orion crew module and was tested in water under simulated and real weather conditions. Tests began March 23, 2009 with a Navy-built, 18,000-pound boilerplate when it was placed in a test pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Full sea testing ran April 6–30, 2009, at various locations off the coast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center with media coverage.[68]

Under the Orion program testing, Orion continued the "crawl, walk, run" approach used in PORT testing.

The "crawl" phase was performed August 12–16, 2013 with the Stationary Recovery Test (SRT).[citation needed] The Stationary Recovery Test demonstrated the recovery hardware and techniques that were to be employed for the recovery of the Orion crew module in the protected waters of Naval Station Norfolk utilizing the USS Arlington as the recovery ship. The USS Arlington is a LPD 17 amphibious assault ship. The recovery of the Orion crew module utilizes[clarification needed] unique features of the LPD 17 class ship to safely and economically recover the Orion crew module and eventually its astronaut crew.[69]

The "walk" and "run" phases were performed with the Underway Recovery Test (URT). Also utilizing the LPD 17 class ship, the URT were performed in more realistic sea conditions off the coast of California in early 2014 to prepare the US Navy / NASA team for recovering the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) Orion crew module.[citation needed] The URT tests completed the pre-launch test phase of the Orion recovery system.

Exploration Flight Test 1

File:Liftoff of Orion.webm
Liftoff sequence and space entry of Orion on 5 December 2014

At 7:05 AM EST on December 5, 2014 the Orion capsule was launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket for its first test flight, and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean about 4.5 hours later. The two-orbit flight was NASA's first launch of a vehicle for human spaceflight since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011, and the first time that NASA had launched a spacecraft capable of taking humans more than a few hundred miles into space since the launch of Apollo 17 in 1972 (42 years prior). Orion reached an altitude of Script error: No such module "convert". and speeds of up to Script error: No such module "convert". on a flight that tested Orion's heat shield, parachutes, jettisoning components, and on-board computers.[70] Orion was recovered by the USS Anchorage and brought to San Diego, California before its return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.[71]

Orion Program mission schedule

List only includes relatively near missions; more missions are planned than are listed below.

Acronym Mission name Launch Date Crewed/
Rocket Duration Remarks
EFT-1 Exploration Flight Test 1 December 5, 2014 Uncrewed Delta IV Heavy 4 hours, 24 minutes (two orbits) High apogee test flight of the Orion crew module in Earth orbit. Mission completed successfully.
EM-1 Exploration Mission-1[72] September 30, 2018[73] Uncrewed SLS Block I[72] 7–10 days[74] Send an Orion on a circumlunar trajectory.[74]
EM-2 Exploration Mission-2[72] As early as 2021[75] Crewed SLS Block I[72] To be the first manned Orion mission. Several different mission objectives are under consideration, including a flight which would loop around the moon.[75][76][77]
EM-3 Exploration Mission-3 August 15, 2023[73] Crewed SLS Block IA[72] Destination to be announced, though it may send a crew to visit a captured asteroid in lunar orbit by 2026.[78][79]


In Fiscal Year 2015, NASA received an appropriation of US$1.2 billion from Congress for the Orion program, an amount that was approximately US$150 million greater than the amount requested by the Obama administration.[80]

Future missions

On April 15, 2010 President Obama tasked NASA with the goal of first directing its resources towards the crewed exploration of a near Earth asteroid, to be scheduled by the mid 2020s, and next with the objective of delivering one or more astronauts to Martian orbit, and returning them safely to Earth by the mid 2030s.[81] Congressional budgetary allocations and the long-range plans of NASA have since both been written/ rewritten to conform to these two long range 2010 presidential mandates.[82][83] This most recent change in NASA's long range objectives notably omitted the earlier intermediary objective of the establishment of a moon base first (which had been included in the now cancelled Constellation program).[83] The potential of the near-term establishment of a moon-base via a privately funded venture, or via the space programs of other nations remains a possibility.[84]

Exploration of a near Earth asteroid

This mission will place an asteroid in lunar orbit, rather than sending astronauts to an asteroid in deep space.[85] The Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, estimates a mission cost of approximately $2.6 billion.[85][86] By contrast, original estimates for colonization of the Moon, as a part of the Constellation Program, reached a total cost of $150 billion.[87] However, the $2.6 billion estimate is solely the cost of asteroid capture. It does not include any developmental costs, nor does it cover the costs of Orion flights to a 7 m asteroid once it is captured, so this comparison does not include the full costs of this enterprise.[86] The Obama Administration estimates that this mission would actually cost even less than the estimated $2.6 billion[85] and was a part of the FY2014 budget request.[85] Steps toward accomplishing this mission would simultaneously develop advanced solar electric propulsion technology.[85]

Mars missions

Main article: Human mission to Mars

The Orion capsule is designed to support future missions to send astronauts to Mars. Since the Orion capsule provides only about Script error: No such module "convert". of living space per crew member,[7] the use of an additional Deep Space Habitat module will be required for long duration missions. The habitat module will provide additional space and supplies, as well as facilitate spacecraft maintenance, mission communications, exercise, training, and personal recreation.[88] During such long term missions, the Orion capsule itself will normally only be fully occupied by the crew during launch, splash-down, and other crew-transfer operations. Some plans for DSH modules would provide approximately Script error: No such module "convert". of living space per crew member,[88] though the DSH module is currently only in its early planning stages. DSH sizes and configurations may vary slightly, depending on crew and mission requirements.[89]

See also


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Other countries:


12px This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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