Orion

The slow, inevitable death begins:

Entering into the transition period between presidents, NASA’s administrator, Charles Bolden, has encouraged the next White House administration to continue support for Orion and the Space Launch System rocket, which account for more than $3 billion annually. Congress, too, has expressed a strong interest in continuing work on these vehicles.

However one source told Ars that it may become necessary to choose either the Orion capsule or NASA rocket in the coming years as the space agency looks to pare back its budget, and this might necessitate going to a less expensive, more privately developed vehicle. “Look,” this source said, “if you have to cancel a program, this is a responsible way of lining up a replacement.”

It will be a bloody political battle, but ultimately, SLS won’t be far behind.

13 comments on this post.
  1. Arizona CJ:

    The Orion capsule has never made any sense for BEO missions; it’s simply insane to push that much mass through such high delta/v for no reason (a lot of Orion’s mass is due to it being a reentry vehicle – a very big one).

    The Orion did, however, make perfect sense if the mission destination wasn’t BEO, but was instead pork. The same applies to SLS. For that destination, their design is ideal.

  2. Jeff Greason:

    Since Soyuz, we’ve known the right approach — a minimum mass capsule just big enough for the crew as the reentry capsule, mated to a habitat volume, which can be small for short missions and needs to be bigger for longer missions. Putting the habitat volume inside the heat shield drives the mass up very quickly with rising habitat volume.

  3. Karl Armstrong:

    Orion issues aside, I kind of doubt that just throwing away the habitat volume will continue to be the cheap solution forever.

  4. Godzilla:

    Agreed. But neither Dragon nor PPTS seem to use that design as a baseline either. Still there is this particular PPTS design that looked kind of interesting and it seems similar to what you propose (with a separate inflatable volume):
    http://www.russianspaceweb.com/images/ppts_rb_leo_1.jpg

    So is why do all new capsule designs use two volumes like Apollo instead of three like Soyuz? Is it to maximize reuse?

  5. Paul Milenkovic:

    Max Faget’s argument on the “habitat volume” was that in the Soyuz-type arrangement, “a lot of systems would have to be duplicated” between the reentry module and the habitat module.

    Remember that there was a General Electric proposal for Apollo that was just such a thing, a proposal which some had claimed the Soviets had “stolen” for Korolev’s two-module Soyuz spacecraft. Faget didn’t seem to think there was sufficient advantage to it.

  6. Richard M:

    Faget was also operating under the requirement that the development of the entire architecture be done as absolutely quickly as possible. Sticking the entire crew hab space inside the vehicle with the heat shield simplified matters.

    So many of the Apollo design decisions were made with the priority of speed in mind. The system they wound up with was well optimized for that, and it succeeded – they got Neil and Buzz to the lunar surface and back before January 1, 1970. But it’s not the system you would have designed if other considerations took priority over time.

  7. Tom Billings:

    If the minimum size of the Orion vehicle were not so large, then the Atlas V would have been able to place it in orbit. Since Committee members wanted to justify the Ares 1 and the Ares 5 launcher developments for yet more pork, the size just *had* to be larger. Without it the bigger pork prize could be lost.

    It will, of course, be interesting to see if this is the “inevitable” death of SLS/Orion spoken of for so long. Popcorn time!

  8. Orion – Today in Space:

    […] Previous Orion […]

  9. Gregg:

    The article states that 10 BILLION has already been spent on Orion…..

    TEN BILLION?!?!?!?!?!

    That’s insane. But later in the article I read:

    “As part of this, the RFI anticipates moving from the existing cost-plus model to a fixed-price contract.”

    Ah that explains a lot…”cost-plus” …the perfect cash cow for a company which provides no incentive to do things quickly or efficiently.

    I haven’t been following Orion or SLS as I wrote them off as Federal Pork. But….ten billion??????

    Was supposed to have a crew flight in 2014??????

  10. wodun:

    The opportunity costs for SLS and/or Orion are depressing. Even without SpaceX, a lot of payloads could have been funded and launched under the old EELV program.

  11. ken anthony:

    It’s not like you could actually do anything with $10 billion.

  12. Richard M:

    There’s one possibility not addressed by the RFI or the Berger article: why use crew return vehicles beyond low earth orbit in the first place?

    It likely *would* be cheaper to modify Dragon or even Starliner for such missions. But since we already have relatively cheap commercial taxis to and from LEO about to become operational, one wonders why the Orion monies couldn’t be better employed developing and operating crew vehicles strictly for missions beyond LEO – something like Nautilus X, for example.

  13. wodun:

    and operating crew vehicles strictly for missions beyond LEO – something like Nautilus X, for example.

    Doesn’t sound like Nautilus X but NASA is scheming with our international partners on a ship to operate in cislunar space to support lunar missions.