What follows describes the role that Orion would have played in the Constellation Program. For a description of its new planned role, see the separate article on the MPCV.
In Constellation, Orion would have have replaced the Space Shuttle Orbiter as NASA's primary manned space vehicle, delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station. It was also intended that it would eventually return astronauts to the Moon.
On August 31, 2006, NASA awarded a five-year $3.9-billion dollar contract to design and build Orion to Lockheed Martin, which beat a joint bid from Northrop Grumman and Boeing.
Orion had been scheduled to make its maiden orbital flight no later than 2014 and its first lunar flight no later than 2020. The booster that would have launched Orion was called Ares I; a larger cargo launch vehicle was known as Ares V.
Orion crew module
A combination of parachutes and airbags will be used for the final descent to Earth, enabling the Orion CM to come down on land and eliminating the need for costly naval recovery at sea (although spashdown will be retained as a backup option). NASA expects to be able to reuse each Orion CM up to 10 times. Only the heat shield, made of the same resin epoxy employed on all pre-Shuttle spacecraft, is non-reusable. It will be ejected following deployment of the parachute-airbag recovery system and a new one fitted for the next mission.
Orion service module
Orion and the International Space StationTo allow the Orion spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, it would have been fitted with a simplified version of the Russian-developed universal docking ring used on the Shuttle fleet. Both the spacecraft and docking adapter would have been covered over with a Launch Escape System (LES) identical in design to that found on the Soyuz spacecraft, along with a fiberglass "Boost Protective Cover" similar to that used on the Apollo CM. Like its predecessor, it would have protected the Orion CM from both aerodynamic stresses and potential catastrophic damage during ascent.
Orion used for lunar missionsCoupled with a lunar lander, called the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM), the Orion spacecraft would have been able to carry twice as many astronauts to the lunar surface as Apollo did and for longer stays – initially four to seven days. While Apollo was limited to landings along the Moon's equator, the new ship would have carried enough propellant to land anywhere on the lunar surface. Once a lunar outpost had been established, crews would have remained on the lunar surface for up to six months. Orion could also have operated without a crew in lunar orbit, eliminating the need for one astronaut to stay behind while others explored the surface.
Carrying a crew of four, Orion Crew and Service Modules would have blasted off atop an Aries I single solid-rocket booster consisting of four segments, like those flown with the Shuttle. Once in orbit, the manned orbiter would have docked with the LSAM and the EDS in preparation for the trip to the Moon.
After a three-day journey, the four astronauts would have climbed into the LSAM, leaving the Crew and Service Modules in lunar orbit. After landing and exploring the surface for seven days, the crew would have blasted off in a portion of the lander, docked with the CSM and returned to Earth.
NASA envisioned the possibility of building a semi-permanent lunar base, where astronauts would have made use of the Moon's natural resources for water and fuel.
A number of other spacecraft, both in fact and fiction, have been called Orion. Project Orion was a US scheme, investigated in the 1960s, to use nuclear propulsion for journeys to the Moon, planets, and stars. Orion was also the name of the Lunar Module that landed astronauts on the Moon in 1972 in the second-to-last Apollo mission, Apollo 16. In science fiction, Orion III was the name of the space plane that transported a character in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey to an orbiting space station.
Related categories• MANNED SPACEFLIGHT
• MOON TOPICS
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