Feeds

NASA 'deep space' ship: Humans beyond orbit by 2020?

Just maybe – if Elon Musk can do what he says

The next step in data security

Analysis NASA has declared that its pork-tastic Orion moonship – whose primary mission disappeared with President Obama's decision that there will be no manned US return to the Moon – is now to be a "deep space transportation system", suggesting that the agency plans to send it on missions beyond Earth orbit.

Concept pic showing Orion Crew Exporation Vehicle docked with a lander in lunar orbit. Credit: NASA

Well, this isn't happening any more.

It remains unclear how the newly-renamed Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will travel into space, when it will do so and what its destination might be – though a near-Earth asteroid is a likely possibility. A major reason for Orion's continued survival appears to be ignoble porkbarrel politics – but there is a tantalising possibility that it might fly beyond Earth orbit in the relatively near future.

The history of Orion stretches back to 2004. The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle was conceived as part of the "Constellation" plans envisioned under the previous Bush administration. These would have seen NASA allied with the established US defence-aerospace industry to mount an ambitious manned Moon-return/Moonbase programme, seen as a precursor effort which would build manned beyond-low-orbit expertise and hardware to be used in an eventual Mars mission.

Under Constellation, not only Orion but an Altair moon lander would have been built. Ares I person-carrying and massive Ares V cargo-only rocket stacks would also have appeared, using technology developed under the Shuttle and Apollo programmes and delivered by traditional cooperative efforts involving large workforces both at NASA and the aerospace majors.

The problem with Constellation was that it was terrifically expensive and NASA's manned-space budget – even on the basis that there would be a gap between cessation of Shuttle flights and commencement of Ares/Orion ones – could not cover it. Congress declined to provide a budget boost of the sort which President Kennedy had managed to obtain for the previous Apollo moon programme.

This led President Obama to institute a review process on taking office, following which almost all of Constellation was axed. The first task which had been foreseen for early Ares/Orion missions – that of carrying supplies and ferrying crews to the International Space Station – was handed off instead to new commercially-built ships (and even rockets) which would be produced without major involvement by NASA – and perhaps without any input from the established aerospace firms either.

The question of manned missions beyond Earth orbit was punted into touch, with the President stating that there would be no return to the Moon and that the goal was now Mars – with the prospect of manned missions to Lagrange points and asteroids beyond lunar orbit as stepping stones at some point. A decision on the heavy-lift rocket which would be necessary to assemble Mars missions in Earth orbit was postponed until 2015.

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Stray positrons caught on ISS hint at DARK MATTER source
Landlubber scope-gazers squint to horizons and see anti-electron count surge
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.