The Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in front of more than 450 invited guests, marking a major milestone in the program.
First announced by President George W. Bush in 2004, the Orion was part of the Vision for Space Exploration plan, created in part as a result of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in early 2003.
The Orion MPCV will take a crew of up to four astronauts on missions beyond low earth orbit to the moon, the asteroid belt and ultimately on to mars. The first unmanned test flight, named Exploration Flight Test-1, will take place in 2014 and will travel 3600 miles above Earth, nearly 3400 miles further than the International Space Station.
The first manned expeditions are expected to take place after 2020 and will involve taking astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
The MPCV was designed and developed by Lockheed Martin at the Waterton Facility near Denver, Colorado, with fabrication and assembly completed at their Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
On delivering Orion to the Kennedy Space Center, Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager said:
“Completing the Orion EFT-1 structure in New Orleans and delivering it to Kennedy Space Center is a tremendous accomplishment in the manufacturing of this deep space hardware. Now we have our eyes set on the Exploration Flight Test which will take this amazing spacecraft designed for crew significantly farther from Earth than any mission since Apollo.” (1)
The MPCV’s appearance evokes strong memories of its Apollo program predecessors, but that is where the similarities end. The technology behind the program is staggering, and way beyond anything that has gone before it.
The MPCV features dozens of technology advancements and innovations that have been incorporated into the spacecraft’s subsystem and component design. (2)
Having already successfully completed numerous tests, including a series of splashdown tests and high altitude parachute tests, the craft will now undergo further testing and assembly at Kennedy Space Center, with propulsion, thermal protection, environmental control, avionics, power, mechanisms, and landing and recovery systems all set to be installed before the flight test in 2014.
The Orion MPCV
With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program, the MPCV will need to be carried into orbit on a rocket. The launch vehicle chosen for this task is the NASA-designed “Space Launch System” (SLS), a system that is not yet built but is based on the ARES I and ARES V rocket designs.
The SLS is not expected to be finished before 2017, so for the initial tests the Delta IV heavy rocket system, first used in 2004, will be used.
We still have a long time to wait before Orion will take humans beyond the boundaries of our atmosphere and onto Mars. The Red Planet has long been established as the ultimate goal of any manned mission into space, but we have at least another 25 years to wait before that wait becomes reality.
In his space policy speech at the Kennedy Space Center in April 2010, President Obama said (of Mars):
“Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. And 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. So we’ll start — 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.” (3)
The Orion MPCV is the vehicle that will take them there, so we will be following the progress of this program very attentively over the coming months and years.
References & Image Credits:
(1) Lockheed Martin
(2) NASA MPCV Design
(4) Lockheed Image
(5) NASA Image