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The Orion capsule arriving at the Kennedy Space Center  (Source:
The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is where the capsule will be fully built

NASA's future form of transportation into deep space, the Orion capsule, made its way to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Friday on Friday, June 29. There, the spacecraft will be built in its entirety.

The Orion capsule, which is designed by Lockheed Martin, will eventually take astronauts into deep space to locations like asteroids and Mars. It will be the most advanced spacecraft ever, with the ability to provide safe re-entry from deep space, a way to sustain astronauts in space, and an emergency abort option. The Orion spacecraft was first unveiled by Lockheed Martin in early 2011.

"This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation's great space exploration story," said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. "Today we are lifting our spirits to new heights."

The first step, once the Orion capsule is completely built, will be to send the upcoming spacecraft on a test flight in 2014. The test flight, which will not carry a crew, is called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), and will launch Orion into orbit via the Delta IV-Heavy rocket. The point of EFT-1 is to see how the spacecraft handles different situations in space.

If all goes well with EFT-1, the Orion capsule will take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit via the new Space Launch System (SLS), which is NASA's latest heavy lift vehicle that will also be used as the backup for international and commercial partner transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Orion capsule is set to launch atop the SLS in 2017. The Orion is set to be the main mode of deep space transportation for about 30 years.

"Ladies and gentleman, we're going to Mars," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "We know the Orion capsule is a critical part of the system that's going to take us there."

Back in February, NASA said it was preparing to explore the Earth-moon libration point 2 (EML-2), which is one of NASA's planned exploration points beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA said EML-2 could be the first step in the "capability-driven" exploration of other space sites like asteroids, the moon and Mars. U.S. President Barack Obama challenged NASA to put a man on an asteroid by 2025 and explore Mars in 2030.

Source: NASA

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It's nice having options
By geddarkstorm on 7/3/2012 3:19:56 PM , Rating: 2
But I'm not sure about the claim of the most advanced spacecraft ever. I'd like to see an actual comparison of it to Dragon. It looks quite a bit smaller than Dragon from this shot, for instance. And I know Dragon is built with the mindset of future missions to Mars, as well.

RE: It's nice having options
By FITCamaro on 7/3/2012 3:36:46 PM , Rating: 1
Nothing but hype.

Can you imagine going to Mars in a capsule that barely looks big enough for 3 people to sit in? The astronauts would go mad. The capsule might have more technology in it than the shuttle but it is nothing but a giant step backwards for spaceflight.

We had a next generation shuttle designed with a half size version built in the late 90s which got scrapped under Clinton because the fuel tanks were proving hard to manufacturer strong enough to handle the pressure. It was still some of the earlier days of carbon fiber. We'd likely have solved the problem within 5 years.

Either way I don't see this capsule seeing occupied space flight within the next 10 years. Our government doesn't care about space flight. It doesn't provide anything for free to anyone so its not a priority.

RE: It's nice having options
By Bubbacub on 7/3/2012 3:58:09 PM , Rating: 2
the x33 was a LEO only vehicle. wasnt going to get anyone into deep space.

"It doesn't provide anything for free to anyone so its not a priority."

orion results in free money from lobbyists for the senators who have pushed for its construction!

RE: It's nice having options
By Ringold on 7/4/2012 1:18:36 AM , Rating: 4
Orion will end up probably being a LEO only vehicle as well, no matter what it may be designed for, at least with the current level of government enthusiasm for manned space exploration.

RE: It's nice having options
By Samus on 7/5/2012 10:25:01 AM , Rating: 2
I still can't believe they canceled the X33 when the components, spacecraft and launch center were nearly 100% complete and entirely within budget, all because they couldn't figure out something with the fuel cells...

RE: It's nice having options
By delphinus100 on 7/5/2012 8:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
It was farther from completion (and budget) than you suggest, and the problem was with cracking and delamination of the layers of the composite hydrogen tank material. Uneven expansion issues at the tank support points were not helping, either It was related to the complex shape of the tank, as opposed to spherical and cylindrical composite LH2 tanks that have done quite well in the DC-X and other projects.

To be fair, however, the tank contractor (according to Aviation Week, back then) did ultimately resolve the delamination issue on its own time and dime, after the project was cancelled.

RE: It's nice having options
By Sazabi19 on 7/3/2012 3:59:35 PM , Rating: 2
I agree Fit,

this thing looks no bigger than the lunar lander module and it wasn't meant to be occupied for very long. I wan't to know how they expect to sustain breathing for long periods other than recycle air, enrich it, and store masive ammounts onboard (or conversion). Also food at this point would take a large volume or need quite a bit of water for hydration, even then all of that weight for that amount of time would be massive. They would also have to work out to try to not lose too much muscle mass in order to walk on mars (almost our gravity) and even more when they come back.

RE: It's nice having options
By geddarkstorm on 7/3/2012 4:25:09 PM , Rating: 2
As an addition, Orion is supposedly twice as heavy as Dragon, in dry weight, according to Wiki.

If we truly want to go to Mars, I kinda think we need to build a ship in LEO or one of the lagrange points that can hold all those provisions, and then dock to it with one of these capsules.

RE: It's nice having options
By Jeffk464 on 7/3/2012 6:45:41 PM , Rating: 2
That can't possibly be the whole ship that goes to mars.

RE: It's nice having options
By DNAgent on 7/4/2012 9:52:17 AM , Rating: 2
It's not the "whole ship," but it IS the entire passenger compartment.

RE: It's nice having options
By MrBlastman on 7/5/2012 2:14:14 PM , Rating: 2
Six months, all alone with co-astronauts in a tight space. Some of them might even be females. Use your imagination. It's all part of the secret conspiracy to concoct the first human "martian."

With all these government cutbacks nowadays, our government has found yet another way to cut back. They figure if they make a human "martian," they can cut the space program entirely by proving they're just like us.

That or it is a grant scheme to colonize Mars. It's the great procreation capsule. How else are they going to stay fit? ;)

RE: It's nice having options
By Jeffk464 on 7/3/2012 6:58:39 PM , Rating: 5
You know since space and weight are such a premium when sending stuff into space why don't they use "little people?" If you want to win a horse race you don't stick some 6 foot 200lbs guy on the horse.

RE: It's nice having options
By Manch on 7/4/2012 12:29:42 PM , Rating: 2
When you put it that way, it makes sense lol. Hell, while we're at it get rid of there legs too! They wont need those in space! That robot they have up there has no legs....just sayin

RE: It's nice having options
By JediJeb on 7/5/2012 10:53:36 AM , Rating: 2
Wall-E comes to mind

RE: It's nice having options
By Manch on 7/3/2012 6:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
I guess there's no economy plus option on that ride.

RE: It's nice having options
By Jeffk464 on 7/3/2012 6:38:02 PM , Rating: 2
The shuttle was an unsafe money pit. Going back to a practical design is not a step in the wrong direction.

RE: It's nice having options
By FITCamaro on 7/3/2012 11:10:54 PM , Rating: 2
So less than a 2% failure rate makes it unsafe?

And the foam breaking off during launch wasn't an issue until they switched to a more environmentally friendly foam. God forbid they have used foam that did the job.

Was the shuttle expensive? Yes. Did it more than justify its cost? Yes. How is a capsule any more practical than a shuttle that glides in for a landing? Both are subject to heat tile failure when re-entering the atmosphere. And I trust wings and some maneuverability more than I trust some parachutes opening.

RE: It's nice having options
By jeffkro on 7/4/12, Rating: -1
RE: It's nice having options
By JediJeb on 7/5/2012 10:56:16 AM , Rating: 2
Then every type of transportation is unsafe, I imagine even more than 14 people have died just walking.

Not to belittle any deaths, as even one is more than we would want, but with every new way to explore comes about there are always risks, especially at the beginning.

RE: It's nice having options
By Ringold on 7/4/2012 1:25:48 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Plus, in the long run, I can't believe disposable spaceships in a sustainable way to run a space program. Orion is slightly reusable, in theory, but in practice we'll see how much gets reused. It still sounds vulnerable to a problem Apollo had; every launch requires almost a whole new set of equipment, with the costs thereof. Not just my opinion but that of lots of folks that the space shuttle lasted as long as it did because it had a fleet of ships sitting around ready to go; a lot of the costs were already sunk. Fix up the SRBs, get a new tank to sail across the gulf, and off she goes.

X33 would've gone even further in the reusable direction, pretty much entirely so. Instead, we're going back to disposable sticks. Biggest mistake of US space history, I think.

RE: It's nice having options
By mellomonk on 7/5/2012 4:11:21 AM , Rating: 2
Not just my opinion but that of lots of folks that the space shuttle lasted as long as it did because it had a fleet of ships sitting around ready to go; a lot of the costs were already sunk. Fix up the SRBs, get a new tank to sail across the gulf, and off she goes.

If only it was that easy. At times there were as many as 2000 people involved in shuttle post-mission refurbishment. There were thousands of hours in the main engine checkout and testing alone. Turnaround time was a minimum of several months as more and more had to be done between flights. All this work accounted for a great deal of the roughly $1bil per flight cost. The complex ground operations and high per flight cost was far in excess of any savings from it's reusability. The shuttle lasted as long for there was no viable alternative. Missions like the Hubble and ISS assembly were entirely designed around shuttle capacities and capabilities. But the loss of commercial missions post Challenger, military missions, and limitations in it's capabilities due to safety and costs post Columbia, ultimately sealed it's fate. It may have never lived up to it's lofty goals, but it was an amazing machine that did and taught us a great deal.

Reusablity will probably remain in limbo for several decades to come. The newer generations of expendable launch vehicles will have far lower per-flight costs then shuttle. And with companies like SpaceX entering the market and possibly a larger business case, the per flight cost should continue to drop. If a business model for their development could be made or if in the future NASA were to fund development for the good of the US industry then we may eventually see a fully reusable design.

The X-33 was an ambitious but ultimately sad story. Even though it was but a sub-scale demonstrator in excess of $1.2 bil was spent before it was cancelled. The cryo H2 tanks could not be built for even the small X-33 let alone scaled up to the full size VentureStar. The money needed to fully develop the concept was simply not there. Ironically a decade later, many of the technical hurtles have been overcome and the tech could live again. If a proper business model can be made, we may see an SSTO design for smaller LEO payloads yet.

RE: It's nice having options
By delphinus100 on 7/5/2012 8:08:37 PM , Rating: 2
X33 would've gone even further in the reusable direction, pretty much entirely so. Instead, we're going back to disposable sticks. Biggest mistake of US space history, I think.

Do understand that X-33 would have been suborbital...

...its degree of success would have determined whether or not to proceed to scaling up the design to the SSTO VentureStar.

RE: It's nice having options
By FaaR on 7/4/2012 3:16:25 AM , Rating: 2
Capsules don't use tiles, they use a one-piece shield, so they're not susceptible in the same manner as the shuttle was. Also, a capsule's heat shield is protected during launch, not exposed like the shuttle's tiles were.

RE: It's nice having options
By Jeffk464 on 7/4/2012 10:14:19 AM , Rating: 2
Plus the capsule can "eject" from the rocket during launch.

RE: It's nice having options
By delphinus100 on 7/5/2012 8:11:31 PM , Rating: 2
One needn't be a 'capsule' shape for that. Sierra Nevada's 'Dream Chaser' lifting body can power itself off a booster in trouble. The 60's DynaSoar/X-20 would have had the same ability...

RE: It's nice having options
By Bubbacub on 7/4/2012 7:14:04 AM , Rating: 2
the shuttle did not justify its cost.

it gobbled up 200 billion (1), killed 14 astronauts (in missions that could have been fulfilled with an unmanned launcher) and left the US military with no orbital ability (2) in a crucial stage of the cold war (after challenger - the shuttle fleet was grounded).

when you add the 400 billion spent on the ISS (2)- which was essentially spent to validate the existence of the space shuttle you are looking at ~ half trillion spend on the part of the USA.

this spend has given us the ability to grow crystals in zero gravity and err....

i love space, i loved watching the shuttle launch and am continually amazed at the engineering that made the shuttle even semi-reusable but it did not provide value for money.

for that kind of cash we could have had a cheap solid rocket booster to dump satellites into orbit and carried on with an improved saturn V rocket.

an improved saturn v could have put up a ISS sized space station in LEO in two or three launches in the early eighties - or gotten us to mars.

the saturn V supply chain and labour costs would kept the pork barrellers happy and the rockets would actually have achieved something more useful for a similar or less spend.


RE: It's nice having options
By nafhan on 7/3/2012 3:41:02 PM , Rating: 2
If you can trust Wikipedia:
The "Pressurized Volume" of Dragon vs Orion is: 10 vs 19.56 cubic meters, which matches up with the diameter difference: of 3.7 vs. 5 meters. Of course, bigger doesn't mean more advanced.

Also interesting: based on those numbers the "pressurized area" (crew compartment?) is very close to 1 meter tall in both vessels: 1m x (3.7/2 m)^2 x pi = 10.751.

RE: It's nice having options
By geddarkstorm on 7/3/2012 3:53:41 PM , Rating: 2
Hm, interestingly Wikipedia does not list Orion's height, it seems? The habitable volume is also just 8.95 cubic meters. Not sure what the habitable volume of a human rated Dragon would be.

Endurance is another interesting feature. Dragon is listed by the pedia as 1 week to 2 years of endurance in space, while Orion is 21.1 days tops.

None of this really tells us what's most advanced unfortunately. Dragon is expected to hold 7 people max, and Orion will hold 4. So I guess that does say something.

We can get an idea of the size of the Dragon capsule from this picture . Definitely taller, and not as wide, so at least width metrics seem sound.

RE: It's nice having options
By Jeffk464 on 7/3/2012 6:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
Dragon is just meant to deliver and return people to ISS right. So 7 people crammed in for a short trip isn't that unreasonable. For going out of LEO you are going to want a little more elbow room.

RE: It's nice having options
By geddarkstorm on 7/4/2012 12:36:51 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, Musk has said Dragon was designed with Mars in mind. LEO is just its first use since that's so easy.

RE: It's nice having options
By delphinus100 on 7/5/2012 8:15:36 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. But for obvious life-support reasons, one would not expect a crew of as many as seven on a 'deep-space' (Lagrange point, or circumlunar) Dragon flight...

Even the circumlunar Soviet/Russian 'Zond' spacecraft was essentially a Soyuz, without the forward orbital compartment, and intended (but never actually flown) with a crew of one.

RE: It's nice having options
By geddarkstorm on 7/3/2012 4:13:24 PM , Rating: 2
Looks like Apollo was 6.1 cubic meters, and had an endurance of 14 days, just as a comparison.

Here's a cool shot from inside the Dragon that docked to the station . Gives kind a feel for the size on the inside, when packed with cargo (probably more realistic for a manned version that way).

When I think about it, I'd say crew complement (and luxury maybe?), endurance, safety margin, speed, and re-entry ability would be the factors I'd used for saying one capsule is "more advanced" than another.

RE: It's nice having options
By mikee1701 on 7/8/2012 7:22:24 AM , Rating: 2
Isn't it about time that Nasa employed a radical thinking designer to look at changing the style of these tin cans? We see these beautiful spacecraft in movies so isn't it about time to concentrate on building an installation on the Moon to eventually construct spacecraft there to avoid the problem of Earth escape velocity? Wasn't the 'Rocket' based on Jules Verne's vision and yet the Russians came up with Vostok simply because they didn't have the same source material? We need someone to start thinking outside the box and not just tinker with what has gone before. I can't wait for Arthur C Clarke's Space Elevator....

So I am looking at this and I am thinking...
By ViroMan on 7/3/2012 3:51:42 PM , Rating: 2
Its awfully small for something that will carry a few(2-3) guys to mars and back for such a long time. Can they really cram that much food and oxygen into a can that small for that many days?

Don't they have mandatory exercise everyday. Where is the space to do there jogging in place?

Where is the bathroom? "hey guys I am gana take a sh*t now... turn your heads for a while."

Does it have deploy able solar panels if not wtf are they using because lithium batteries wouldn't cut it for that distance and back.

By JediJeb on 7/3/2012 6:58:26 PM , Rating: 4
From looking at it, it is obvious how it works. In the center there is a nice shiny pole, and the astronauts hold on to the pole and run around that flat "ring" near the base for their exercise. This has two benefits. First they get their exercise, second it makes the capsule spin which will give them some artificial gravity while they sit and eat their dinner.

By mellomonk on 7/5/2012 3:20:23 AM , Rating: 2
The waste collection facility is behind the seating bulkhead. The Orion interior can be fitted out in several ways. It can hold as many as 7 for LEO missions, but is designed for a crew of 4 for missions outside of earth orbit. There are several service module designs all of which feature circular solar panels but also contain a modular power system that can accommodate batteries and/or fuel cells. Despite what several of the sources indicated above say, the Orion would only be part of a deep space spacecraft. There would be an additional habitat/mission module. There are many pdfs with technical details available on the various NASA websites. Though frankly many are out of date since the Orion has had many changes since the it's inception in the early 2000s.

Tiffany, oh Tiffany !
By Gondor on 7/3/2012 4:35:05 PM , Rating: 1
I love your articles ... especially their ubiquitous second paragraph with dreams abound :-) I, too, fantasize about space exploration, the advancement of human race (much akin to Star Trek) and meeting new discoveries ... but you seem to be actually living in this dream-world of yours where everything you write actually happens ? It must be a wonderful life and I envy you whatever you're eating, prescribed or not.

Please keep up the good work writing your articles, but do remember to share the recipe for your magic cookies with us - we all want a piece of the fun you're having ;-)

RE: Tiffany, oh Tiffany !
By FaaR on 7/4/2012 3:21:20 AM , Rating: 2
Your passive-agression is not very passive, mate... You'll have to work on that in the future. ;)

Unfinished Capsule
By danielravennest on 7/4/2012 8:28:43 PM , Rating: 1
At least this story mentions "when it's finished", many of the news stories do not. This is no more a capsule than a mid-tower case without a power supply is a "computer". It's an empty shell that can *become* a space capsule once they put all the equipment in it.

I think NASA is feeling the pressure from SpaceX to show they have *something* in the works, even if they are three years behind the Dragon in getting to a first demo flight.

RE: Unfinished Capsule
By delphinus100 on 7/5/2012 8:25:10 PM , Rating: 2
Others have noted a tendency for NASA to 'plug' Orion and/or SLS whenever they can, as well

...Commercial Space envy, perhaps?

By Bubbacub on 7/3/2012 4:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
you could send an irradiated and possibly mentally unstable (from being packed in a can filled with the smell of faeces for 6 months) team to mars with this.

you would also need to have a massive external life support module, propulsion module, landing module + fuel/technology for the trip back home.

its like saying that you've made a ocean liner to travel around the world after building a cabin room with ensuite shower - having forgotten to acknowledge the need to build the rest of the ship

works for all
By PittmanKen18 on 7/6/2012 11:51:40 PM , Rating: 2
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