Orion isn’t a done deal

Hailing frequencies open… Forums Sci Minus Fi Human Spaceflight Orion isn’t a done deal

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    Headline from the original article: “As Trump takes over, NASA considers alternatives to its Orion spacecraft” [LINK]

    “This is NASA taking a breath and looking at alternatives,” one source told Ars. “Part of why they also did it is they are signaling to the next administration that they may be willing to look at alternatives.”

    The new RFI states that Lockheed will continue with development of Orion through a second uncrewed flight set for late 2018 and Exploration Mission-2, the first crewed mission, as early as 2021. However, once this “base vehicle” configuration is established, the RFI signals NASA’s intent to find a less expensive path forward. “This RFI serves as an examination of the market, which is an initial step in pursuing any of the available acquisition strategies, including the exercising of existing options,” the document states.

    The original structure of NASA’s contract with Lockheed Martin is such that NASA “owns” the design work when it is completed, so another contractor, if it could demonstrate a compelling cost advantage, could take over for Exploration Mission-3 and beyond.

    Kinda nervous about the future of the space program right now, but the recent Planetary Society Space Policy podcast seemed to indicate that NASA wasn’t high on either candidate’s list for a revamp.


    This is sudden. [LINK]

    When presidential transition officials recently reviewed NASA’s existing plans for using its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, they were not particularly impressed with the agency’s stretched-out timelines. Under NASA’s current plan, an initial crewed launch of the new vehicles was unlikely to occur before 2021, and independent analyses pegged 2023 as a more realistic target. That would put the first crewed flight into deep space beyond the first term of President Trump.

    In response to these concerns, top-level NASA managers have been considering the possibility of launching crew on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), instead of making an uncrewed test flight of the rocket as presently planned. Although this would delay the initial launch of the SLS rocket from 2018 to at least 2019 or 2020, it would also add more sizzle by bringing crew to the mix.

    With such a mission, astronauts would likely fly around the Moon as happened with the historic Apollo 8 flight in 1968. As one senior NASA manager recently explained to Ars, imagine the message NASA could send if, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings in 1969, it was once again sending humans back into deep space with its new rocket and spacecraft. NASA would seem to be fulfilling its promise to America of getting back into the business of exploring deep space with humans.

    Now these secretive plans have spilled out into the open. On Wednesday, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot sent a memo to the agency workforce saying such an option would now be studied.

    Okay…I know the Trump administration is presently…distracted…but let’s clear this up: adding a crew to the second flight doesn’t add “sizzle”. It adds “urgency to the workflow of making sure both the booster and the capsule are man-rated and safe”, an area where 17 astronauts and a handful of cosmonauts, or at least their surviving heirs, would tell you that there’s no room for error.

    I can respect that the decision to fly the aforementioned Apollo 8 flight around the moon in 1968 was a relatively impulsive move to ensure that America could claim some kind of victory over the Soviet Union in the space race, and they’re looking to emulate that, but Apollo 8 was the second manned Apollo mission to fly, and prior to Apollo 7, Apollos 2-6 tested both capsule and rocket extensively. Here…we’re talking about the first-ever flight of SLS. We’re banking a lot, including potentially the lives of a crew of astronauts, on a new rocket having a completely glitch-free first flight.

    You want to emulate Apollo’s all-up test sequence? Great. Emulate the whole sequence, don’t roll the dice on being able to achieve the same result without the unmanned test flights to shake down any problems.

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