Lockheed Martin starts assembling first manned Orion capsule


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My heart be still! Thirteen years after winning its contract to built the manned Orion capsule, Lockheed Martin proudly announced this week that it has finally begun building the first capsule that will carry humans.

I should add that this first manned flight is not scheduled to happen for another five years. Moreover, they have so far spent at least $14 billion on this capsule, and will likely spend another five billion by the time it finally launches. That’s 18 years and $19 billion, for a single manned mission. Seems somewhat shameful to me.

The article is filled with much of the dishonest hyperbole that has surrounded the Orion capsule from the start:

  • “NASA’s first of a new generation of manned deep space exploration craft”
  • “Orion will be a major step in the American program to establish a Deep Space Gateway station, return to the Moon, and eventually make a manned landing on Mars”
  • “Orion has tremendous momentum.”
  • “This is not only the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its production will be more efficient than any previous capsule.”

What Orion really is is a lie. It is nothing more than the ascent/descent capsule for the as-yet still undesigned, unfunded, and unbuilt interplanetary spaceship that will be needed for any real deep missions. It is also a boondoggle of the worst sort, providing pork for congressional districts while accomplishing nothing.

Lockheed Martin is lying in its press release here, and it is shameful that any journalist who knows anything about space should buy into those lies.

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9 comments

  • Kirk

    RZ: “What Orion really is is a lie. It is nothing more than the ascent/descent capsule for the as-yet still undesigned, unfunded, and unbuilt interplanetary spaceship that will be needed for any real deep missions.”

    This is the part I’ve never understand. Back when NASA was officially on a “Journey to Mars”, Orion was described as part of that pathway. I’ve assumed that if you needed to haul an Earth descent capsule with you all the way out and back, you’d want to make it as light a possible, with the result likely as cramped as a Soyuz descent module. Orion is way too big for this purpose, but is too small to be the habitation module for a six month voyage. It may be the right size for the late lamented(?) ARM, or the planned annual month-long visits to the DSG, but isn’t that because these missions were built around the hardware?

  • Kirk

    I see the article makes a big deal about it being the capsule which will “carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in almost 50 years.” I wonder how concerned SpaceX is about stepping on toes with their planned lunar tourism mission. Dragon 2 is no Orion, but such a flight would take away some of Orion’s bragging rights.

  • Localfluff

    Sending astronauts to an asteroid turned into towing an asteroid to Lunar orbit, and then just a boulder from an asteroid. DSG is ARM without also the boulder, it’s just the rendezvous in Lunar orbit, but without anything to rendezvous with. They even keep the solar electric propulsion that the ARM asteroid (boulder) towing spacecraft was supposed to have used, to keep DSG on station balancing a Lagrange point. Orion will make up about one third of the DSG’s pressurized volume, it’s design and location are made up just to make SLS and Orion indispensable.

    Many things will happen in five years. I think Orion will find it harder and harder to actually fly at all some day.

    @Kirk
    They mean in 50 years from now.

  • ken anthony

    What’s a journalist?

  • Klystron

    “Orion has tremendous momentum”. This is verifiably false. Where momentum p = mv, Orion has a velocity v=0. Therefore Orion has ZERO momentum! Q.E.D.

    Great work Bob in shining the light on this massive boondoggle.

  • D Engel

    Could the Falcon Heavy launch the Orion?

  • Localfluff

    @D Engel
    The Falcon Heavy could launch Orion with the DCSS-5 upper stage (that will be used on the first SLS+Orion launch), and then Orion gets 3 km/s delta-v from LEO. This seems to be enough for a Lunar flyby-and-return but not to enter Lunar orbit and then return to Earth.

    Elon Musk said, when asked a couple of years ago, that Falcon Heavy could land an astronaut on the Moon, but the return vehicle would have to be landed uncrewed separately. I think it can be more practical to build a Lunar spacecraft in LEO, if it so takes three Falcon Heavy launches.

  • Edward

    Klystron,

    Nice analysis, but you missed the part where there is a small non-zero velocity. The mass (or is it “mess”?) from Congress, on the other hand, is so large that it overwhelms the small non-zero velocity to produce a tremendous momentum. It is that overwhelming mass that makes it so difficult to halt the boondoggle.

    We keep thinking that SLS, and possibly Orion, will collapse under the embarrassment of the inexpensive Falcon Heavy, but Congress may be able to continue to rationalize SLS by noting that there will be a much more capable version coming along soon. Where “soon” means sometime in the far distant future (2029, if there is no further schedule slip — yeah, I’m laughing, too).

    The Big Falcon Rocket’s large spaceship, Interplanetary Transport System (Big Falcon Spaceship?), could be flying before Orion can make its first actual mission flight, maybe even the scheduled first manned test flight. Please note that there is no current actual mission for Orion, just a test flight.

    – Falcon Heavy: 63,800 kg to low Earth orbit(LEO); first launch in 2018
    – SLS Block 1: 70,000 kg to LEO; first launch in 2019

    — BFR: 250,000 kg to LEO expendable/150,000 kg reusable; first launch in 2022
    — SLS Block 2: 130,000 kg to LEO; first launch in 2029

    Saturn V: 140,000 kg to LEO

    reference:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_orbital_launch_systems

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