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Project Constellation / Vision for Space Exploration [VSE]

On 14 January 2004, President Bush proposed a new vision for space exploration that includes human and robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) 2005 budget allocates the majority of funding for the Moon/Mars initiative to two programs: the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), to be used to transport humans to both the International Space Station and to lunar orbit; and Lunar Exploration, robotic exploration of the moon that includes the development and launch of lunar orbital satellites and landing rovers.

The President's plan can be seen as having three distinct, but related aspects.

The first aspect concerns current human space flight programs. The President proposed to complete construction of the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of the decade and to retire the Space Shuttle at that point. ISS research was to be reconfigured to focus on questions related to the impact on human health of spending long periods in space. Under the proposal, the US participation in ISS was slated to end around 2016, although the Administration said that that date may shift. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also decided to cancel the Shuttle mission that was needed to keep the Hubble Space Telescope in operation past 2007. Ending the Shuttle and Station programs is necessary to free up funds for other aspects of the proposal and to avoid Shuttle recertification in 2010, an expensive process called for by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

The second aspect of the plan concerns new medium-term goals for human space flight. The central goal is to return to the Moon between 2015 and 2020. To do this, NASA will develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which will carry humans by 2014. The CEV may also be used to service the Space Station. The Marshall-based Orbital Space Plane and Next Generation Launch Technology programs were canceled as a result of the President's Vision for Space Exploration.

The third aspect of the plan concerns long-range goals for the years past 2020. The entire plan is geared toward preparing for this period, but what will happen during these years is (perhaps necessarily) left entirely open-ended. The ultimate goals are to send humans to Mars and to increase the commercial exploitation of space. The timing of future exploration is left open and will depend on the pace of technology development and discovery during the years leading up to 2020. The President announced the appointment of a nine-member commission, headed by former Secretary of the Air Force Pete Aldridge, to focus primarily on recommending what kinds of things ought to be done in the long-run on the Moon and to get to Mars, and how those activities might shape programs in the nearer-term.

Constellation Systems

Named after the patterns that stars form in the night sky, Constellation Systems is responsible for developing the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and related exploration architecture systems. Like the Apollo Command Module, the CEV represents one building block in a future exploration architecture that can send astronauts to the Moon and form the basis for exploration missions to other destinations. The Vision for Space Exploration sets a goal of developing a new CEV by 2014 that is capable of carrying astronauts beyond low Earth orbit and a goal of landing astronauts on the Moon no later than 2020.

Constellation Systems is the combination of large and small systems that will provide humans the capabilities necessary to travel and explore the solar system. Constellation Systems will be made up of Earth-to-orbit, in-space and surface transportation systems, surface and space-based infrastructures, power generation, communications systems, maintenance and science instrumentation, and robotic investigators and assistants.

In parallel with development of the CEV, robotic explorers will serve as trailblazers to reduce the risks and costs of future human operations at the Moon. With robots, we will build mission operations experience that can provide insight into the preparations required for extended human presence to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.

Based on studies conducted by the NASA Requirements Division, and driven by their results, the Directorate's Constellation Systems Office will develop, demonstrate, and deploy successive generations of capabilities that will enable the United States to achieve the vision of sustained human and robotic exploration on the Moon and beyond. Technology and advanced systems development and demonstration activities will be undertaken to establish critical capabilities that will be essential for all phases of lunar exploration.

The capabilities to be developed will form a system-of-systems that include:

  • Robotic Precursor Systems: The first steps in our journey of exploration will be taken by robotic systems-orbiting, landing, and operating on the Moon as precursors to later human explorers. We are working closely with, and providing requirements to the Science Directorate, which is responsible for managing a series of robotic lunar missions that will pave the way for human exploration.
  • Crew Transportation: The initial focus for the Constellation Systems Program will be to develop a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) that will carry future astronauts from Earth to space, and from point-to-point in space. Initial high-level milestones include a CEV demonstration flight in 2008, a CEV flight without crew in 2011, and a CEV flight with crew in 2014. Along with building the CEV, we will select the appropriate human-rated launch vehicle.
  • Cargo Transportation: The cargo transported may include fuel and supplies, as well as transportation modules and supporting infrastructure that will be used in space or on the lunar surface. In cooperation with the Space Operations Directorate, trade studies are underway to evaluate launch vehicles and optimize the number of launches required to implement a given mission. Multiple components may be launched from Earth, assembled in Earth orbit or other locations, and then transported for use in lunar orbit or on the Moon.
  • Surface Systems: The capabilities we deploy on the lunar surface will support diverse mission phases, including lunar landing, surface operations, and ascent from the lunar surface. The variety of system-of-systems needed are still being defined, but could include systems for surface mobility, robotic assistants, extravehicular activity, habitation, scientific platforms such as telescopes, and surface-based power generation.
  • In-Space Systems: NASA may also enhance, in cooperation with various other Directorates, NASA's space-based infrastructure. This may include additional communication networks, service platforms for maintenance and supply, and zero gravity extravehicular capabilities like evolved space suits.
  • Ground Systems: In cooperation with other Directorates, NASA will rely upon or enhance NASA's existing ground-based systems to support mission operations, preflight integration and logistics, and mission simulation and testing.
  • Humans as a Critical System: NASA will create new capabilities by focusing on the human interface so that humans can live and work in space productively without suffering long-term health consequences.

The capabilities that comprise Constellation Systems will evolve over time, based on exploration goals, budgetary priorities, and analyses of cost, benefits, and risks. This evolution will take place in stages or " spirals" that will allow NASA greater flexibility in meeting its exploration objectives. Development will be supported by many organizations within and outside of NASA. This includes NASA Centers, industry, universities, other government agencies, and international participants.

Exploration Spirals

The Constellation Systems Theme is responsible for developing, demonstrating, and deploying successive generations of new capabilities to enable sustainable and affordable human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Capabilities will be developed within well-defined program spirals. The initial program spiral delivers a human Earth Orbit Capability by 2014. This includes a risk reduction demonstration in 2008 and flight tests in 2011 without crew. Following program spirals will deliver the capability to support human missions to the lunar surface no later than 2020 and then to Mars. Specifically, future Spirals are defined as follows: Spiral 2 is a Lunar Landing Capability; Spiral 3 is an Extended Lunar Stay Capability; Spiral 4 is a Mars Landing Capability, with further spirals still to be defined.

The capabilities that will support these spirals form a System of Systems that include crew transportation systems, cargo transportation systems, in-space support systems, destination (Moon, Mars) surface systems, Earth ground systems, and human support systems. The Earth Orbit Capability (Spiral 1) Program within the Constellation Theme will manage the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), and supporting ground and in-space support systems projects.

Exploration Spiral 1/Crew Exploration Development and Test - Exploration Spiral 1 will establish the capability to test and checkout Crew Transportation System (CTS) elements in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in preparation for future human exploration missions to the Moon. The capabilities necessary to satisfy the Spiral 1 objectives consist of a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), a Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), and ground support infrastructure. The CEV and CLV will safely transport the crew from the surface of the Earth to LEO, and return them to the Earth's surface at the completion of the mission. Demonstration of CEV and launch system performance are critical to enabling Spiral 1 objectives of safe transportation of the crew. Successive demonstrations of the CEV and launch system (including the ability to perform ascent and entry aborts) will begin with a series of risk reduction flight tests, and lead up to crewed CEV operational capability to support human exploration missions beyond LEO. The CEV must have a high degree of automated control to accomplish the early un-crewed test flights. As exploration capabilities necessary for future spirals are developed, they will be tested with the CEV in the space environment to prepare for future exploration missions. Robotic exploration missions during Spiral 1 will investigate the lunar environment and provide the needed information to prepare for safe landings and human exploration of the lunar surface.

Exploration Spiral 2/Global Lunar Access for Human Exploration - Exploration Spiral 2 will establish the capability to conduct human exploration missions to any location on the surface of the Moon without pre-positioned surface infrastructure. This Spiral 2 capability will likely be utilized to conduct human exploration of potential lunar base sites prior to the delivery of habitats and surface power systems (Destination Surface Systems). This capability could also be utilized to place humans at the lunar base camp location for habitat and surface power systems final assembly tasks. Once the lunar base is established, this Spiral 2 capability could be utilized to explore locations which are not accessible via surface mobility assets.

The systems necessary to satisfy Spiral 2 objectives consist of those developed in Exploration Spiral 1, or derivatives of those capabilities, plus Earth Departure Stage(s) (EDS) necessary to transport elements to the lunar vicinity as well as the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) that will provide the capability for the crew to access the lunar surface. The Cargo Delivery System will deliver un-crewed elements of the Crew Transportation System into LEO and/or lunar orbit (e.g., EDS). Spiral 2 will include successive flight tests to demonstrate the flight characteristics of the CEV, EDS, and LSAM to gain knowledge of how the systems perform at greater distances from Earth and increasing levels of autonomy. Focused robotic precursor technology demonstration missions to Mars are also anticipated within this Spiral.

Exploration Spiral 3/Lunar Base and Mars Testbed - Exploration Spiral 3 will establish the capability to conduct routine human long-duration missions at a lunar base to test out technologies and operational techniques for expanding the human presence to Mars and beyond. Missions in Spiral 3 will extend up to several months in duration at the lunar poles or equatorial region in order to serve as an operational analog of future Mars missions. Spiral 3 will require the development and deployment of habitats and surface power systems. These Destination Surface Systems (DSS) will be delivered to a selected location in the polar or equatorial region by the Cargo Delivery System (CDS). The number, type, and sequencing of these CDS missions have not yet been specifically defined. Once the surface systems are in place, successively longer missions will be conducted to increase the understanding of system technical performance (including health and human systems), and to provide increasing levels of operational autonomy capabilities that will be necessary for future human Mars exploration missions. The Spiral 2 capability for global access is retained in Spiral 3, and will allow exploration missions to locations not accessible from the base camp via surface mobility assets.

Exploration Spiral 4 / Crewed Mars flyby -

Exploration Spiral 5 / Humans on Mars -

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