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Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)

The first Orion Flight Test aboard a Delta 4 Heavy rocket on 05 December 2014 evaluated launch and high speed re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield. During its 4.5 hour trip, Orion orbited Earth twice and travel to an altitude of 3,600 miles into space. The flight was designed to test many of the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews.

In the future, Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. More powerful than any rocket ever built, SLS will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid. The next Orion flight would be in 2018 with the launch of a second Orion capsule, also unmanned, on the debut flight of NASA's still-under-development Space Launch System rocket. That flight was to send the capsule around the moon. Orion's third flight, slated for around 2021, was expected to include astronauts.

On 14 January 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new Vision for Space Exploration. Dubbed Project Constellation, this vision calls for retiring the Space Shuttle, developing a new vehicle capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS, and exploring space beyond LEO. Initially, the United States will return the Space Shuttle to flight in accordance with the recommendations of the CAIB (Columbia Accident Investigation Board) to complete its work on the ISS by 2010. Then, the Shuttle will be retired.

The CEV is envisioned as a modular space transportation system that will be able to carry crews beyond LEO, such as to the Moon or other destinations. Plans call for completing the first test flight of a CEV by 2008 and carrying human crews by 2014. The CEV will transport astronauts and scientists to the ISS after the Shuttle is retired. Following a series of robotic missions, extended manned missions to the Moon could begin as early as 2015. Knowledge gained through extended visits to the Moon will be used to develop technology for human missions beyond the Moon, beginning with Mars.

CEV will serve as the central human space-transportation system within NASA's Project Constellation, a broader architecture of human and robotic space systems that will be required to ferry astronauts to the Moon and beyond. CEV will carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit, and will include power, propulsion and life-support systems. It will also include a launch-abort system to protect the crew and separate it from the launch vehicle in the event of a problem on the launch pad or during the ascent phase of launch.

For a lunar mission, the CEV will be integrated with additional systems that will propel it beyond low-Earth orbit to a staging point near the Moon. The lunar mission will also require a secondary space system that will allow the crew to travel from the staging area to the Moon's surface, sustain the crew on the Moon, and transport it safely back to the in-space staging point.

Some designs are expected to fly on Atlas 5 or Delta 4 vehicles. The CEV will require the development of a new launch system, and NASA has not decided yet how to approach the design of a new launch vehicle. NASA is now estimating that the development of such a vehicle will cost about $5 billion.

Administration officials have said that because the CEV and its launch system will be developed over a longer time period than was allotted for the OSP there will be time to reevaluate costs before becoming overly committed to a particular design. Total CEV development is expected to cost about $15 billion.

The plans are expected to cost $12 billion over the first 5 years. The cost of the CEV may be affected by how NASA decides to select a contractor for the program. NASA limited OSP development to two competitors. NASA has not yet made clear whether it will have a more open competition for the CEV.

The costs of developing the CEV, the new vehicle that would take astronauts to the Moon and beyond also are uncertain because development has not yet begun. In some ways, CEV development will build on the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) project that NASA discontinued as part of the President's initiative. The OSP, which was to be designed primarily to take astronauts to the Space Station, was already facing cost overruns in its early design stages, and Congress was raising doubts about its usefulness. NASA now estimates that it will spend $6.5 billion over the next five years on CEV development.

The majority of the funding would be derived from reallocations within the existing NASA budget. 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.

Using the advice of a new President's Commission on the Implementation of the US Space Exploration Policy, NASA will review existing spaceflight and exploration programs and develop a plan for long-term implementation of the President's vision. In November 2004, the US Congress authorized full funding of the $16.2 billion budget that NASA needed to return the Shuttle to flight and get the CEV development off to a good start.

Several companies are building upon technology developed under previous NASA programs, such as SLI, OSP, and NGLT. Proposals for the test vehicle are expected to be submitted in 2005. To what extent components of the CEV will be reusable is unclear. That determination will depend on the individual design concepts.

In September 2004, NASA awarded study contracts to the following eight firms. These firms included large, established aerospace companies as well as small, entrepreneurial companies.

  1. Andrews Space & Technology, Inc.
  2. The Boeing Company
  3. Draper Laboratories
  4. Lockheed Martin Corporation
  5. Northrop Grumman Corporation
  6. Orbital Sciences Corporation
  7. Schafer Corporation
  8. Transformational Space Corporation, LLC (t/Space)

On 21 January 2005 Northrop Grumman Corporation and The Boeing Company completed and signed a formal agreement to compete as a team for NASA's new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and related human lunar exploration systems. The agreement concludes a negotiation process that began in October 2004 when the companies signed a memorandum of agreement to explore teaming opportunities. The major participants in the agreement are Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector and Boeing NASA Systems.

Under the agreement, Northrop Grumman will serve as the team's leader and prime contractor during the initial development phase of the CEV, known as Spiral 1. During this period, which will demonstrate the CEV's ability to operate safely with astronauts in low-Earth orbit, Boeing will serve as Northrop Grumman's teammate and principal subcontractor. During Spiral 2, which will begin the expansion of human space exploration to the moon and beyond, Boeing will serve as prime contractor for the lunar mission elements. For this work, Northrop Grumman will serve as Boeing's teammate and principal subcontractor.

On 31 January 2005 Lockheed Martin announced the team of industry innovators have joined Lockheed Martin in the competition to design and build NASA's new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). Lockheed Martin is one of several companies chosen by NASA last September to provide concepts for the development of a Crew Exploration Vehicle, as well as overall architecture concepts for human exploration of the moon. Lockheed Martin will lead the team as the system prime contractor. United Space Alliance will draw upon its extensive experience in large, complex systems integration, operation and maintenance of multi-purpose space systems and reusable space launch systems, including the Shuttle and numerous systems associated with NASA's human space flight program. EADS SPACE Transportation provides its expertise in the design and development of space transportation vehicles and manned space systems, together with its long experience of international cooperation in manned space programs. Orbital brings its strengths in integration of solid rocket motor systems and significant experience with spacecraft and small launch vehicles. Honeywell provides Integrated Systems Health Management (ISHM) technology, which elevates crew autonomy and systems management to a new level, and will provide avionics, guidance, navigation and control (GN&C), and mission and ground systems support. Hamilton Sundstrand provides its expertise in the design, manufacture and servicing of Space Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) and brings over 40 years of technical experience from its key participation in every major NASA human space program with Space Suits, critical Vehicle Life Support, thermal control and power management systems. The Lockheed CEV for Lunar Missions has radiators and solar panels that can be deployed. This configuration would be used for long duration missions (up to 19 days) in lunar orbit. The Trans Earth Injection Module will be used to return the CEV from lunar missions back to Earth.

A key challenge for NASA is to develop new capabilities in a manner that is pragmatic - so that new capabilities can be developed and used to advance exploration in the near term - while also being flexible, in order to incorporate new technologies and respond with agility to scientific discoveries. To meet this challenge, NASA will develop exploration capabilities in stages, or "spirals." Each spiral will usher in a set of major new capabilities in support of the Vision for Space Exploration. Spirals will be structured based on specific requirements, well-defined goals and endpoints, then-current technologies, management risks, an executable budget, and knowledge gained from prior in-space activities. NASA's acquisition strategy encourages the use of open-systems architectures that facilitate upgrades and augmentation while enabling interoperability among systems.

Capabilities to be provided by the first three spirals are:

  • Spiral 1: Earth Orbit Capability. Spiral 1 establishes the capability to test and checkout crew transportation system elements in Low Earth Orbit in preparation for future human exploration missions to the Moon. As new exploration elements necessary for future spirals are developed, they will be tested with the Spiral 1 CEV in the space environment to prepare for future exploration. The objective of crewed access to low earth orbit will be met by 2014. This remained the objective in mid-2006.
  • Spiral 2: Extended Lunar Exploration. Spiral 2 establishes the capability to conduct human exploration missions on the surface of the Moon for extended durations. In this context, extended duration is defined as the capability to support the crew on the surface of the Moon for a minimum of four days. This objective was initially defined as being met in the 2015-2020 timeframe, but by mid-2006 the surface landing was set for "no later than" 2020.
  • Spiral 3: Long Duration Lunar Exploration. Spiral 3 establishes the capability to conduct routine human long duration missions on the surface of the Moon to test out technologies and operational techniques for expanding the human presence to Mars and beyond. Missions in Spiral 3 will extend in duration from those obtained in Spiral 2 up to several months to serve as an operational analog of future short stay Mars missions. This objective will be met after 2020.

NASA has defined an initial set of requirements for Spiral 1, 2, and 3 and identified major factors that drive performance and cost for the CEV. Based on these initial requirements, a technical solution has been developed using a Point-of-Departure (POD) architecture that meets the exploration objectives through Spiral 3. The POD will be used as a baseline against which cost and operational performance trades can be made with the goal of optimizing the exploration architecture and finalizing the Spiral 3 requirements at SRR in July, 2006.

Salient features of the POD architecture:

  • Spiral 1 components include the CEV, a CEV launch vehicle, and ground support systems infrastructure. The CEV and launch elements will safely transport the crew from the surface of the Earth to Low Earth Orbit and return them to the Earth's surface at the completion of the mission. The Launch System provides the capability to launch the CEV to Low Earth Orbit. The CEV provides the necessary crew habitation functions during ascent, on-orbit, and entry, including mission aborts. Initial versions of the CEV would carry three-person crews to the space station a couple of times per year. The ships also could be used to transport cargo.
  • Spiral 2 consists of the Spiral 1 elements, or derivatives of those elements, plus the Earth Departure Stage (EDS) to transport elements to the lunar vicinity as well as the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) that provides the capability for the crew to access the lunar surface. The CEV provides crew habitation from launch to lunar orbit and return to the Earth surface, including aborts during Earth ascent. The CEV provides the transportation functions to return from lunar orbit to the Earth surface. The 12-ton capsule would be mated to a service module to provide power and propulsion during the lunar journey. The EDS provides the propulsive accelerations needed to transfer the various flight elements (CEV and LSAM) from Low Earth Orbit to lunar orbit and provides the deceleration for lunar orbit insertion. The LSAM provides the crew habitation and transportation functions from lunar orbit, to the lunar surface, and return back to lunar orbit. In addition, the LSAM provides the capability for the crew to conduct science and perform routine EVA on the surface of the Moon. Finally, the Cargo Delivery System (CDS) is used to deliver un-crewed elements to low Earth orbit and/or lunar orbit. The CDS consists of an EDS and a Cargo Launch Vehicle.
  • Spiral 3 requires various additional surface elements to support the crew for the long duration missions. These surface elements have not been completely defined at this point, but will provide basic functional capabilities including habitation, communication, power, extended range mobility, enhanced science capabilities, and other functions. These larger versions of the CEV would take four people to the moon and six-person crews to Mars.

Based on the POD architecture, a set of Initial Performance Parameters (IPPs) has been defined for the CEV. Industry was expected to provide an initial concept for a CEV spacecraft that shall have a total gross liftoff weight (GLOW) of less than 20 metric tons. The CEV was to be capable of supporting human life from launch on the earth surface through mission complete on earth surface during a maximum CEV crewed mission duration of 16 days. It would provide the capability to conduct missions with 1, 2, 3, and 4 crewmembers with a minimum habitable volume of 3.54 cubic meters per crew member. A set of focused cost and performance trades was conducted prior to SRR against these IPP's to include crew size of up to 6 crew members and crew habitable volume allocations.

As of early 2005 NASA had expected to select two prime contractor teams in 2005 for further concept development of Spiral 1, which was to culminate in launch demos in 2008 and downselect to one winner, with a first crewed launch in 2014. NASA had planned to have a suborbital or an Earth orbit fly-off called Flight Application of Spacecraft Technologies (FAST) between two teams' CEV designs before September 2008.

NASA initiated an Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) to provide the analytical support for a number of key near-term decisions for NASA, the White House, and Congress. The ESAS is a 90-day study that examined many of the larger questions associated with the Vision for Space Exploration. Some of the topics the ESAS reviewed included the requirements for returning to the Moon and extending human exploration to Mars, as well as possibilities for accelerating the development of the Crew xploration Vehicle (CEV). This team was expected to complete its work in July 2005.

In response, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin indicated that NASA will select one contractor for the CEV in 2006, versus a post-2008 downselect, to permit the start of CEV operations earlier than 2014. The new CEV and its associated launch system were initially intended to transport crews on exploration missions. But by mid-2005 it was also envisioned as being capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the Space Station. The CEV will conduct missions in Earth orbit, including missions to the ISS, but its primary mission will be to support exploration of the Moon and other destinations. Acceleration of the CEV program would be accomplished by deferring other elements of the Exploration Systems Research and Technology plan not required for the CEV or for the early phases of human return to the Moon.

The first CEV missions to Earth orbit will include docking with the ISS. NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate will be responsible for developing and acquiring both crew and cargo services to support the International Space Station, and funds have been transferred to that Directorate. NASA planned to leverage the commercial space industry to meet NASA's needs for ISS cargo logistics and potentially crew support.

On 31 August 2006 NASA selected Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Md., as the prime contractor to design, develop, and build Orion, America's spacecraft for a new generation of explorers. Orion will be capable of transporting four crewmembers for lunar missions and later supporting crew transfers for Mars missions. Orion could also carry up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station.

The contract with Lockheed Martin is the conclusion of a two-phase selection process. NASA began working with the two contractor teams, Northrop Grumman/Boeing and Lockheed Martin, in July 2005 to perform concept refinement, trade studies, analysis of requirements and preliminary design options. Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the design, development, testing, and evaluation (DDT&E) of the new spacecraft. Manufacturing and integration of the vehicle components will take place at contractor facilities across the country. Lockheed Martin will perform the majority of the Orion vehicle engineering work at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, and complete final assembly of the vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. All 10 NASA centers will provide technical and engineering support to the Orion project. Orion will form a key element of extending a sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to advance commerce, science and national leadership.

The contract is structured into separate schedules for DDT&E with options for production of additional spacecraft and sustaining engineering. During DDT&E, NASA will use an end-item cost-plus-award-fee incentive contract. This makes the award fee subject to final determination after the contractor has demonstrated that it meets the technical, cost, and schedule requirements of the contract. DDT&E work is estimated to occur from Sept. 8, 2006, through Sept. 7, 2013. The estimated value is $3.9 billion. Production and sustaining engineering activities are contract options that will allow NASA to obtain additional vehicles as needed. Delivery orders over and above those in the DDT&E portion will specify the number of spacecraft to be produced and the schedule on which they should be delivered.

The first Orion launch with humans onboard was initially planned for no later than 2014, and for a human moon landing no later than 2020. Post-development spacecraft delivery orders may begin as early as Sept. 8, 2009, through Sept. 7, 2019, if all options are exercised. The estimated value of these orders is negotiated based on future manifest requirements and knowledge gained through the DDT&E process and is estimated not to exceed $3.5 billion. Sustaining engineering work will be assigned through task orders. The work is expected to occur from Sept. 8, 2009, through Sept. 7, 2019, with an estimated value of $750 million, if all options are exercised.

In April 2010 President Obama committed NASA to a series of development milestones he said would lead to new spacecraft for astronauts to ride to the International Space Station, a modified Orion capsule developed as an emergency return spacecraft, and a powerful new rocket. Under the Constellation program Orion was to be the crew capsule used to transport astronauts to the vicinity of the Moon before trips to the surface using the Altair lander. Orion was also to provide crew transportation to the ISS, where it would have docked for six months before returning crews to the Earth. Though the Orion was to fulfill the ISS mission objectives first, it was not designed primarily for that purpose. Rather, NASA initiated Orion’s development with the objective of making it a lunar-capable spacecraft that also could meet the ISS servicing mission.

Developing an Orion-derived escape capsule to provide the ISS crew with assured return to Earth in case of an emergency is a less complex task than completing the Orion with its full suite of mission objectives, but this effort still brings important capabilities while enabling NASA to maintain critical skills in this area and continue to utilize its multi-Center, in-house team for spacecraft development. It will, as the President noted in Florida on April 15, provide “part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions.”

Obama's plan largely mirrored the "flexible path" option offered by the blue-ribbon Augustine panel established by the president to help decide the best map for future space exploration. The outline did not do away with all the research and development from Constellation. Noting the success of the agency's development of the Orion crew capsule, Obama called on NASA to develop a version of that spacecraft so it can be launched without a crew to the International Space Station. It will be based there as an emergency craft for astronauts living on the orbiting laboratory.

Obama said "by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space. We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 26-03-2019 18:35:09 ZULU