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NASA Orion crew exploration vehicle (updates)

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DocM    16,319

It can go beyond Earth orbit, which Dragon 2 will be able to do with a Service Module, but Dream Chased and CST-100 are not up to it. Their thermal protection systems aren't up to 25,000-30,000 mph re-entries and their power systems aren't up to free flights longer than a few days.

NASA advertises Orion as a Mars spacecraft, but it couldn't really do that alone. Such an architecture would need to include a transfer vehicle with a habitat, a logistics module ("pantry"), a departure & return propulsion module/stage, a lander/return vehicle etc. The capsules job would be to taxi the crew to the transfer stack, return them to Earth, and act as a command module between.

Without those it would be limited to short missions in the space around the Earth-Moon system (cislunar space) and near-Earth asteroid missions.

Dragon 2 could do cislunar missions as well, but SpaceX's plan for far BEO is the MCT spacecraft. All indications are it's to be a beast.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Not even going to fly until 2021? SpaceX will likely be doing Lunar Checkouts/Testing on Dragon V2+ by then.

 

And yes, that's Dragon V2 PLUS -- with all the goodies, addons and (most likely) platform upgrades by then. Big, BIG stuff in the works from SpaceX around that timeframe that we'll be sure to hear about way before then. :yes:

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DocM    16,319

Sad, isn't it? Orion and SLS are both circling the drain, and not just because of Falcon Heavy. It's very likely Blue Origin's own launcher (not the ULA Atlas V replacement) will be a heavy or super-heavy and capable of major campaigns. 2 of either BO's launcher or FH could likely put up an SLS level mission at a fraction of the cost.

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IsItPluggedIn    1,684

Boeing is supplying the SLS core stages under a six-and-a-half-year, $2.8 billion contract that was finalized in July. The deal runs through 2021 and calls for the company to deliver two SLS cores, including hydrogen and oxygen tanks, and avionics.

 

 

$2.8 billion for 2 cores, seems like a good deal. Better than the $1b a year they get now for maintaining. 

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DocM    16,319

$1.4B per launcher without a payload. Actual missions could run $2-5B according to govt. reports.

Two disposable (full payload mass) Falcon Heavy's would lift more than a $1.4B SLS Block-1 by a lot (~100 tonnes vs. 70 tonnes) and cost about $250M.

Now consider the fully developed SLS with a 130 tonne payload mass. It's anticipated SpaceX's BFR will also be much cheaper, but have a payload mass of 200-300 tonnes.

This because SpaceX is targeting a higher thrust level (15 million lbf) with a more advanced engine (full flow staged combustion) and using a more efficient fuel (methane) than SLS will use in its first stage. Those advanced FFSC engines started tests over a year ago at NASA Stennis.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Yep. NASA needs to stick to what they are good at -- Science Missions of the Unmanned Kind. They usually get that stuff off the ground on time.

 

When we don't include the James Webb Space Telescope. That's another one that has circled the drain for too many years, blown way past budget and generally has proven the theories of NASA's bureaucracy and internal culture to be completely true. Much like the abomination that Orion and SLS is now.

 

It's a shame, really. Both programs had such potential.

 

Here's a thought -- hand the JWST over to SpaceX, with full Technical Specs and Diagrams/Schematics. They'll have that piece of equipment in space within two years, fully upgraded and uprated with modern tech and ready to do it's job.

 

Then give them the keys to Orion and SLS. Likely 85% of that technology will be immediately be scrapped (and thusly recycled), and the remaining 15% (the useful bits) will then be upgraded (since it will likely be out of date) for use in the Dragon V2+ gear.

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SALSN    54

Here's a thought -- hand the JWST over to SpaceX...

Bold suggestion, would be interesting to see what would happen, though I'm sure it will never go through the political system, also not sure SpaceX would even want this.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

True, but if anyone could get it finished up and into space in the next three years, they could. :yes:

 

[EDIT] Of course, they'll check the optics and mirror(s) before launch to make sure there isn't a repeat of the HST debacle. SpaceX is thorough like that.

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DocM    16,319

JWST's capabilities may be outdated by new techs by the time it flies.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

I agree.

 

At the rate that Adaptive Optics technologies are improving/evolving for ground-based systems, we might not need the space-based Observatories. Once the major Observatories are outfitted with the Generation 4 upgrades sometime over the next few years we'll have a better idea where things stand.

 

Of course, the specialized systems like Kepler and the like will always be needed.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Hey DocM, you're at 19,999 posts ... ;) Congrats!

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

- Orion is too far into development to cancel, so they might as well finish it. Adapters can be made to fit it to Commercial vehicles, such as Falcon 9 Heavy and so on, as we saw with the test flight using the Delta 4 Heavy. Since the Falcon 9 Heavy won't be ready for active service until 2016 or 2017 (at the earliest), this fits nicely into NASA's schedule.

 

- SLS, however, is not far enough along (aside from construction facilities which are in-progress). That large, upright welder that has given them trouble lately has not actually built anything yet, correct? If they were to cancel the SLS program right now, that will reduce a huge financial, oversight, and operational headache and eliminate the other infrastructure upgrades and changes they apparently are required to perform to Complex 39B; and in fact they would then be in a position to lease that area to Commercial Interests like SpaceX, Orbital, and others.

 

So, in my view, cancelling SLS (and its' massive construction & infrastructure needs) would not only free up NASA to finish Orion ahead of the current schedule, but allow them to lease 39B and recoup some money for the Government. Even if it does not necessarily serve NASA, it's good business practice and will attract Commercial customers to the Cape.

 

Thanks for the article, Doc. You're on top of things us usual. :)

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DocM    16,319

Adapting Orion to Falcon Heavy is very do-able. FH has more than enough capacity and other mission Lee n nets could be launched ahead of it on other FH's.

OTOH: BFR could easily replace SLS and then some.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Something I was thinking about (and it's really a shame) is that for all of the fantastic work that NASA has done in the past and continues to do (to some degree)  in the present, and with all of the incredible science going on in partnership with all of the various Universities, Agencies, and other Government programs around the world, NASA seems incapable of managing its' own affairs in a common-sense fashion. I'm not kidding ... it's almost as if there is some kind of purposeful incentive to do things as inefficiently and wastefully as possible.

 

During my Military days it was like that as well, to some degree. Not nearly as blatant, but anyone who has served in the U.S. Military will know exactly what I'm talking about -- that mind-numbing "hurry up and wait" thing that drove each and every one of us completely batty.  :laugh: Nothing got done expeditiously.

 

It's sad, and shouldn't be like that. NASA used to be the pinnacle of what human beings could accomplish when we worked together toward common goals. Once we got our heads out of the sand and began working with other Governments (like Russia), there was no limit to what we could accomplish. I think our best days of Space Exploration are still ahead of us, but we need to clean house. NASA, as it currently exists, has to go.

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DocM    16,319

In both cases part of it is institutional, but even more it's micromanagement induced paralysis from Congress and the Administrative branch.

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bguy_1986    351

Something I was thinking about (and it's really a shame) is that for all of the fantastic work that NASA has done in the past and continues to do (to some degree)  in the present, and with all of the incredible science going on in partnership with all of the various Universities, Agencies, and other Government programs around the world, NASA seems incapable of managing its' own affairs in a common-sense fashion. I'm not kidding ... it's almost as if there is some kind of purposeful incentive to do things as inefficiently and wastefully as possible.

 

During my Military days it was like that as well, to some degree. Not nearly as blatant, but anyone who has served in the U.S. Military will know exactly what I'm talking about -- that mind-numbing "hurry up and wait" thing that drove each and every one of us completely batty.  :laugh: Nothing got done expeditiously.

 

It's sad, and shouldn't be like that. NASA used to be the pinnacle of what human beings could accomplish when we worked together toward common goals. Once we got our heads out of the sand and began working with other Governments (like Russia), there was no limit to what we could accomplish. I think our best days of Space Exploration are still ahead of us, but we need to clean house. NASA, as it currently exists, has to go.

WE need to clean house the next couple elections or nothing is ever going to change.  That will fix more than just problems with NASA.  It should solve a lot of other problems.

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Beittil    557

So that would just change the focus from democrat proc to republican proc...

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Not sure which one is worse, to be honest. Two sides of the same coin. Both sides of the aisle are responsible for creating the current state of affairs, and they both have a responsibility to fix it if they are tasked to do so. Generally it turns out worse than before.

 

I think one of the problems is that the entrenched elements in NASA and other organizations (and this also goes for the Corporations whom rely on the large Government contracts such as ULA) are resistant to change and in many cases do everything they can to prevent it.

 

Sad, really, when there's no accountability for poor performance in a system organized like NASA is.

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bguy_1986    351

So that would just change the focus from democrat proc to republican proc...

Both sides are bad.  Some new members make it in and aren't so bad, but even they slowly start caring more about their wallet instead of what's right or what's more efficient.  There needs to be accountability and not a bunch of things snuck into bills just to get votes.  Not easy to change or fix it anymore I'm afraid.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Yep, that's why I'm of the opinion that NASA in it's current form needs to end. I know that I'm over-simplifying it, but a short-list breakdown includes:

 

- The current unmanned missions (Voyager, New Horizons, Dawn, etc) are mostly run by JPL in California.

- The US Operations to the ISS are conducted from the JSC in Texas.

- Primary launch facilities, vehicle assembly and coordination from KSC in Florida.

- Research and Development for NASA is conducted all over the United States and Canada.

- Science and Climatology Programs are worldwide, but many fall under the auspices and direction of NASA.

- Dedicated Recovery and Rehabilitation assets , much of which was left over from the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs that were never fully decommissioned or recycled.

- Administration and Training Facilities, many of which are no longer used.

 

This is probably 60% of what NASA is.

 

So, what needs to be done? What can be done? What should be done? These are the real questions, and there are no easy answers other than 'it cannot be allowed to continue like this'.

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DocM    16,319

Orion's heat shield post-flight.

orion_heatshield.jpg

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Jim K    12,781

So, what needs to be done? What can be done? What should be done? These are the real questions, and there are no easy answers other than 'it cannot be allowed to continue like this'.

 

I think simply put...funding and a clear direction to head.  It is hard to head in a direction when the "next" administration changes what the previous one set.  It is hard to head in any direction without funding.

 

Funding...funding...funding.  Give NASA a direction and the money to create technology and they will achieve the goal (or try).  

 

Obviously not doable now but leading up to the moon landings NASA received between 2-4.5% of the budget (varied every year).  With funding the US put its first man in space in 1961 and then just 8 years later they put man on another celestial body.  Just 8 years...to me that is fascinating...going from barely getting off the ground to the moon in just 8 years.

 

Today, they only receive about .5% with a budget of $18B in 2015.  To put that into perspective....

- You could barely buy 9 B-2 bombers  

- The F-35 program has cost around $400B to date (or around $21B per year since 1996).

 

--Neither one of those can go to space and/or perform scientific research which reveals the unknown for the benefit of all humans.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

Hmm. Not quite what they had in mind at 80%(?) of the stated reentry speed for a manned mission ...

 

Either the seawater or the reentry itself did that. It that's indeed reentry damage, they're going to have to re-think that whole Heat Shield.

 

Video of the reentry itself didn't show any of the characteristics of the Heat Shield "burning up", as it would be quite noticeable in the plume as embers or trailing sparks.

 

This is something the Orion people will have to examine (and simulate in controlled conditions) to get a better idea of what's going on.

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Unobscured Vision    2,650

@ jjkusaf: Funding is not so much the issue as it is a problem with NASA Management. I will be the first one to state that the job of NASA Administrator is not an easy task even in the best of times. Nor is the task of any of the other Administrative personnel responsible for the other aspects of NASA's operation. They serve many masters -- The President, Congress, the Military Detachment specifically assigned to NASA's activities, the myriad of Companies with whom NASA does business, the Scientific Community, even the Public to some degree.

 

What I am saying is that it has become too convoluted. Too many masters. Too many different interests at work.

 

I suppose that what I am saying, if there's anything meaningful in my long-winded, convoluted diatribe, is that NASA needs to either reinvent itself or needs to be reinvented. The NASA of old simply does not function properly anymore.

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