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A Look At NASA's Orion Project 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the bruce-willis-approved dept.
An anonymous reader writes "People in north Iowa got a first-hand look at NASA's Orion Project. Contractors with NASA were in Forest City to talk about the new project and show off a model of the new spaceship. NASA has big plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. The mission, however, will not be possible without several important components that include yet-to-be-developed technologies, as well as the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft to fly astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. In fact, Orion's first flight test later this year will provide NASA with vital data that will be used to design future missions."
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A Look At NASA's Orion Project

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't help but feel naming the module Orion was a throwback to the system they wish they had built:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm glad they didn't build a ship that propels itself by exploding hydrogen bombs out it's ass.

    • by lq_x_pl (822011)
      No joke. When I first saw the headline I thought they had resurrected the atom-bomb-propulsion idea.
      • by Rei (128717)

        Of course, the old Orion design has been significantly surpassed by a number of newer designs. Medusa, for example, is much better than Orion - the bombs explode in front of the craft behind a gigantic "parachute", which captures far more of the energy and the long cords on the parachute allow for a much longer, smoother acceleration pulse. The bombs are also able to be detonated much further from the craft, and the craft may be made a lot smaller.

        Nuclear thermal - the first version that was being developed

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      that is exactly one of the reasons i remember reading when it was first announced.
    • by macson_g (1551397)
      I too regret that such a cool name is wasted for slightly enlarged Apollo CM, which looks outdated even in comparison to SpaceX's Dragon.
  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @08:17PM (#47497161)

    ... this is an Orion. [princeton.edu]

    Get back to us when you can take a crew of 200 to Mars and back. In a month.

  • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @08:25PM (#47497205)

    It's currently being done in a way that makes in inseparable from the SLS rocket, an out-dated and over-budget project enabled by government inertia and congressional pork. Also, the Orion MPCV itself doesn't represent much of an upgrade over existing manned space capsules; if it's to go anywhere outside of Earth orbit it's going to need a much larger and more complex space habitat attachment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D... [wikipedia.org] which has yet to be developed.

    • Well of course it's got to be tied to a project enabled by government inertia and congressional pork. The only way politicians will let the money be spent is when there's tons of jobs spread out over many districts. And of course you know that in two years after the next set of elections the dynamics between the Congress, Senate, and the new President will have changed which will mean a completely new mission for NASA. Which in turn will mean everything that they have been working on will have to be scra
      • What we really need is something like a space Lego set that can be reconfigured for multiple kinds of missions. But, maybe that's not entirely realistic. As software people know, making something generic is not without trade-offs and usually extra complexity.

  • by xmark (177899) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @08:31PM (#47497247)

    It took 8 years from Kennedy's speech in 1961 to a human on the moon in 1969. Not only did NASA get a moon rocket designed, tested, and launched in that time, it also got an intermediate rocket program (Gemini) designed, tested, and launched prior to the moon program.

    From scratch.

    Now we're looking at (maybe) 11 years to develop a working rocket to go to an asteroid. Oh boy, journey to an, umm, space rock. Really stirs the heart, doesn't it? And this after willingly withdrawing from manned spaceflight capacity altogether for at least six years, and counting. Yep, just folding the cards and walking away from the table.

    Sure, go ahead and tell me how technically challenging the space rock odyssey will be. But the call of space comes from the same place the call of the sea arose from in the past. To Terra Incognita, where "Here Be Dragons." Sorry, there be no dragons around the space rock.

    The technical wizardry missions could and should be handled by robots. Humans should be reserved for missions which stir the soul, or the people who pay for such things (you and me) will stop paying.

    It's hard to think of a better demonstration of how the US used to get things done, and how it does things now, than to compare the space program we had 50 years ago to the current version.

    "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood, and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    • by danheskett (178529) <[danheskett] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday July 20, 2014 @08:55PM (#47497361)

      From scratch is a term of art. Not a real description. We had been sending stuff into space before Kennedy's speech. We had been working on rocket and control systems for a bit. NASA didn't fall from the sky into existence, but was the culmination of a long-effort.

      I am perfectly content at this point to just stop it all. If private individuals want to fund a non-profit organization to do the work of NASA go for it. I am all for a few regulatory changes to let it happen within a few broad parameters.

      The challenges are different now, and I think well more than twice as a complex.

      BUT you have a point about America:

      "We used to make stuff in this country. Now everyone's just got their hand in the next guy's pocket." -- Frank, Season 4, The Wire.

      Even the government can't get out of the government's way anymore. There is nothing happening that's not part of a graft racket.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      From SCRATCH?!??!?!

      You mean besides the technological base from WWII and the 1950s Cold War ICBMs, sure, "from scratch"...

      Commence eye roll sequence, eye roll sequence initiated.

      Hold for half an hour.

      "From scratch"... They weren't baking a cake.

      • by xmark (177899) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @10:36PM (#47497799)

        I will join you in the eye roll, but directed to your post.

        I assumed anyone reading my OP would understand I was talking about a specific engineering and exploration *project* rolled up from scratch (which is a colloquial term, with the literary license customary for such usage). Take the logic of your post far enough, and I would have to credit Australopithecus for the discovery of fire.

        We all, to paraphrase Newton, stand on the shoulders of giants. So too did the engineers at NASA. This should not require further explanation.

        Meanwhile, judging by the serial explosive failures of the 50s rocket tech you mentioned, and the weak tea served up by Mercury vs. the superior Russian tech, Apollo did not have the kind of technological base you've implied, anyway.

        If you read a good history of the Apollo effort, you'll find that the engineers *desperately* wanted a clean sheet approach. And they got it. Along with a government that cut red tape and cleared the way for them to do what they were there to do.

        Those days are gone.

      • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Monday July 21, 2014 @10:14AM (#47500273) Journal

        When Kennedy gave that speech, we had all of 15 minutes of manned spaceflight experience from putting a single manned capsule on what was essentially a V-2 rocket imported from Germany. Alan Shepard could have held his breath through most of that flight.

        So yeah, the later Mercury flights, the Gemini flights, and the Apollo program were essentially from scratch.

    • by CanadianMacFan (1900244) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @09:07PM (#47497431)
      But in the 1960's NASA was involved in a massive dick waving contest which made them take risks that management today would be scared of even contemplating yet alone taking. If there was the money available we could easily go to Mars within a decade. It would be risky but there would be people willing to take those risks.
    • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @09:15PM (#47497469)

      > Now we're looking at (maybe) 11 years to develop a working rocket to go to an asteroid.

      It's worse than that. There will be no deep-space journey to an asteroid. Instead, a near-Earth asteroid would be selected or a small asteroid will be moved to near-Earth orbit using unmanned robotic craft. The 'manned asteroid mission' will not go any further than the Apollo missions did. And it would not do anything other than just take some samples and bring them back to Earth. Little in-situ science, and definitely no in-situ resource extraction. It really raises the question of why we're sending up humans in the first place.

      There _may_ be deep-space (i.e. anything outside of Earth orbit) missions in the 'future', but they would need big and complex manned spacecraft that have yet to emerge from the drawing board.

      We're not going outside of Earth orbit any time soon, not if we're to rely on NASA.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sure, go ahead and tell me how technically challenging the space rock odyssey will be.

      It's actually not technically challenging at all, we've had the technology for at least a decade, if not longer. Instead it's politically challenging. NASA keeps getting its budget slashed so the NSA can build more data storage facilities in which to store their illicit espionage. Congressmen keep infighting over each space buck in order to make sure his state gets the most pork, even to the detriment of the project's goals.

      Face it, space exploration is expensive. Back in the 60's it was a matter of Nationa

    • by BZ (40346)

      It's a matter of funding.

      Looking at the chart at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org] and in particular the inflation-adjusted line there tells you pretty much what the story was: at the peak of the Apollo program NASA's budget was about $40 billion/year in today's dollars (the red line in that graph is in 1996 dollars). NASA's budget today is less than $18 billion/year.

      Or to put it in relative-to-the-economy terms, in 1966 NASA was 4% of Federal budget expenditures. 4% of the 2013 US expenditures (actual, no

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Monday July 21, 2014 @12:53AM (#47498345) Homepage

      It took 8 years from Kennedy's speech in 1961 to a human on the moon in 1969. Not only did NASA get a moon rocket designed, tested, and launched in that time, it also got an intermediate rocket program (Gemini) designed, tested, and launched prior to the moon program.

      From scratch.

      Other than the part about Gemini... you're completely wrong. Development of the F1 engine started in 1956. The J-2 got started in 1959. Engineering studies and development of what would become the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn V booster were well underway by 1960. There was also a ton of other R&D projects and nascent technologies from NASA and DoD programs then under way. (Apollo relied on chips developed for the DoD and a guidance system borrowed from a SLBM.) That's part of why Kennedy chose the moon landing as a goal over his other options we already had many of the pieces under development.
       
      And you can't discount another critical factor - during the crucial startup period Apollo had a massive budget.
       

      Now we're looking at (maybe) 11 years to develop a working rocket to go to an asteroid.

      Space programs are like women, when you compare a fantasy (your massively romanticized and largely factually incorrect version of Apollo) to reality... it's unsurprising that reality doesn't measure up.
       

      But the call of space comes from the same place the call of the sea arose from in the past. To Terra Incognita, where "Here Be Dragons." Sorry, there be no dragons around the space rock.

      Nope. The call of the sea was "here there be PROFIT".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 21, 2014 @04:08AM (#47498767)

      that somebody apparently taught you.

      Werner Von Braun's team of Germans were working for the US Army Ballistic Missile Development organaization in the 1950s where they used their WWII experience with the V2 in conjunction to the experience of their new American colleagues to develop the Redstone and Juno rockets. While Eisenhower was still president in 1958, they began the development of a giant experimental rocket called the "Juno V". The first stage comprised of a Juno rocket body (used as a fuel tank) with 8 redstone bodies clustered around it (half of them used to hold fuel, the others used as oxidizer tanks) with a cluster of Redstone H-1 engines at the bottom. This project was well underway as was construction of launch facilities in Florida (NOT complex 39 yet, rather LC34 and LC37 further south), plans for a liquid hyrdogen-fuelled upperstage, and studies on civilian uses of this rocket (including for possible moon missions) before John F Kennedy even started running for President and before Eisenhower joined with then-Senator Johnson to create NASA.

      When NASA was created from NACA in response to Sputnik, the Von Braun team and their projects, including the Juno V, were transferred to NASA and this rocket was renamed to "Saturn I". John F Kennedy won the 1960 election and was sworn-in in January of 1961. He gave his moon speech to congress in May 1961 (and his famous space speech at Rice University in 1962). The first Saturn I flew from Cape Canaveral in October of 1961 (only 5 months after telling congress he wanted to go to the moon). My point is not to take anything away from Kennedy (he had the singular vision to challenge the nation to aim for the goal, and the managerial wisdom to put the right people in place to get the job done) but rather to say that it actually took more than 8 years to get to the moon... it was actually about 11 years from the time the first work started on the Saturn rockets to the time Neil Armstrong planted his boot.

       

      Incidentally, it has now been a decade since the Columbia broke-up on reentry and the Bush Administration set in motion plans to replace the shuttle with Orion sitting atop an expendable rocket for missions to the Moon and Mars, so it's fair to be upset by the sluggish progress on this retro-future path back to the 1960s

    • by daid303 (843777)

      Go play KerbalSpaceProgram.

      It's much easier to land on a moon then to get to an asteroid. Moons are quite large, have their own (significant amount) of gravity. Asteroids are small, have eccentric orbits.

      • Rendezvous with an asteroid is about the same as rendezvous with another small orbital body, like a space station. You match your orbital plane, and then you plot a point of intersection between your orbit and the target. You match velocity and orbit with a maneuver when you get close. You then get nice and close, and do what you're gonna do (take pictures, grab on, etc.).

        As with all things, the devil is in the details. But we've gotten really good at rendezvous - we've been doing it in orbit since the

  • by confused one (671304) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @09:12PM (#47497457)
    OMB reviews, independent budget reviews and internal NASA reviews all say that at the current funding rate, the system will not be ready for such a mission for a decade beyond 2025.
  • by ErnoWindt (301103) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @10:05PM (#47497683)

    There is absolutely zero possibility that astronauts are going to be travelling to Mars in Orion which is basically Apollo + 1 extra seat. NASA has been misleading the general public about this for years. Oh yeah, astronauts are going to stay strapped to their seats for 18 months...in a capsule with almost no room to move. Major components of the project - including room to live and move around, along with mild gravity provided by a centrifuge - haven't been even designed yet, let alone price spec'd. No one has any idea how they will work or how they will protect astronauts from radiation from the Sun. I'm betting it's 2100 before we ever get to Mars, at least under NASA.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      NASA has been misleading the general public about this for years.

      Can you provide evidence for that? I've only heard it referred to as a "stepping stone" or the like for bigger missions.

    • Because there's absolutely no way for Orion to dock with something else that has yet to be developed, launched separately, meant to support a longer mission.

      Right?

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @10:08PM (#47497695)

    NASA's vaunted "Asteroid Redirect Mission" is now widely regarded as crap. It doesn't give us any new knowledge, it's not a good intermediate step for human colonization of space, and it's been mismanaged so badly that you could tell me it had been infiltrated by Russians intent on destroying America, and I wouldn't much doubt it.

    But it does have one saving grace: it's our best shot if we ever find an asteroid headed for Earth impact.

    I found this out sort of by accident - I was playing Kerbal Space Program, which has a NASA-sponsored module for doing asteroid redirects. I had a ship designed for that in orbit, and was looking for a good target.

    I found one. On a direct intercept course. About a week out.

    To make things worse, it was at like 80 degrees inclination. To cut a very long story short, I managed to redirect it to aerobrake, then stabilized the orbit so it wouldn't eventually deorbit.

    Now, I fully realize that was a game, and that rocket science is actually a lot more complex than strapping a shitload of boosters to everything (my standard design). But the basic principle remains - something that can redirect an asteroid to enter lunar orbit is also something that can redirect an asteroid off of an impact course.

    I don't know if that fully justifies the program - it's an absurd expense for what we get. On the other hand, what price can we put on avoiding extinction?

    • Obligatory: http://xkcd.com/1244/ [xkcd.com] Jokes aside, it's true that if you want to redirect an asteroid a robotic mission makes the most sense.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @10:44PM (#47497829) Homepage

      "what price can we put on avoiding extinction"

      sounds like someone's got a great idea for a kickstarter campaign!

    • Can you point to good criticism of the Asteroid Redirect Mission? I can't think of a better way to kick-start in situ space resource utilization, which is what we need for sustained human presence in space. Perhaps you mean the manned portion of this mission? The redirection of an asteroid into a close orbit is a very good idea by itself. Of course, spacecraft sent to study this asteroid and try extracting resources from it should mostly be unmanned (and will be).
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      NASA's vaunted "Asteroid Redirect Mission" is now widely regarded as crap.

      ALL suggested manned missions seem contrived. We don't really need space humans at this point; robots do raw space exploration cheaper.

      It's better to think about it as preparing for future colonization when technology catches up someday to make self-sufficient colonies viable. Issues related to astronaut health and emergency rescues are probably the most important lessons to be gained.

      Another possibility is an orbital lab, away from E

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by itzly (3699663)

      On the other hand, what price can we put on avoiding extinction?

      The next extinction event is much more likely to come from human activities than from an asteroid.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Monday July 21, 2014 @09:00AM (#47499733)
    Manned spaceflight pork and a pointless mission to an asteroid. The money would be much better spent on unmanned robotic probes to Europa and other places of interest.
  • by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Monday July 21, 2014 @11:27AM (#47500807) Journal
    Frankly, I think NASA should be working with SpaceX to get the DragonRider off the ground as fast as possible and work on the Falcon Heavylift. This is basically a pork project to keep the people who where making the solid rocket boosters in business.
  • I find something lacking, a habitat module. I see lots of articles, PPT, etc. describing how Orion will go beyond but yet I haven't found much on additional space for food, supplies, tools and parts (yes, things can break down needing replacements and repairs), exercise equipment. Maybe there is but I haven't seen anything consistent (I admit I'm not involved in Orion or other HSF programs, and haven't fully searched the internet for references). I see lots of articles about Orion and SLS launch vehicle but

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