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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 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.

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