The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2014-2015 Big Years for Crewed Spaceflight for the US

Spaceflight is tricky business and carrying crews safely to and from space is the trickiest of all. So, when speaking of the future of spaceflight it is reasonable to begin the conversation with the caveat, "If all goes well ...". So, if all goes well, in 2014, the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle will make an unmanned test of the entire system to make sure everything works as expected before putting any fragile humans inside it. Designed to keep people in space anywhere from 21 to 210 days, with 316 ft3 of habitable space, the mission of the Orion is to get humans back out beyond low earth orbit, where we've been stuck since Apollo. We will once again be able to stride out to the moon, the asteroids, and eventually Mars with an evolved version. Here is how NASA describes the Orion:


The Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is based on the Orion design requirements for traveling beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
  • Spacecraft to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond LEO
  • Capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking, extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by the Space Launch System (SLS) for missions beyond LEO
  • Capability to be a backup system for International Space Station cargo and crew delivery

For more about the flight test, see: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/663703main_flighttest1_fs_051812.pdf

According to Space.com, the plan is for the Orion capsule to be reusable at significant cost savings.

Meanwhile, over at SpaceX, Elon Musk's team is knocking down NASA's test stages quickly, determined that 2014 will be their year for a full test of a crew capable Dragon space capsule, provided all 14 of their NASA Commercial Crew Integrated Capability milestones are successfully conquered. Right now milestones five and six are done. Next on their list to complete is a launch pad test of their abort system (already completed for the Orion). For Dragon specs, see: http://www.spacex.com/downloads/dragonlab-datasheet.pdf While I'm not seeing much on when the first full test of the unmanned Dragon will occur (the launch pad abort test will occur late this year or in early 2014 and see the Dragon off the pad). But SpaceX's ambition is to fly a crew into space to the ISS as early as 2015, beating out Orion by a year. Both Dragon and Orion are hoped to be serving humanity regularly by 2017.

If all goes well, in the next few years we will see the capsule shaped spacecraft soaring into the skies for the first time in decades with human crews headed where "no one has gone before." Personally, I'm looking forward to those years to come! It's well past time we left low earth orbit once again.


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