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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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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.

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