Orion capsule has no room for Moon rocks


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Good enough for government work! It appears that the Orion capsule that NASA and Lockheed Martin have been building since 2004 — for a total cost of a mere $18 billion — with the express purpose of sending American astronauts on missions to the Moon and beyond, has been designed without any capability for bringing lunar samples back to Earth.

The article at the link is mostly a dive into NASA’s make-believe plans about what will happen on the proposed 2024 lunar landing being pushed by Trump, a mission as yet unfunded by Congress and dependent on a NASA rocket, SLS, that has yet to launch and is years behind schedule. Buried however at the very end of article however was this bombshell:

One of the limitations on returning samples is the Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts back from lunar orbit to Earth. Chavers said the Orion spacecraft does not have any designated space for a box of sample rocks taken from the lunar surface. “We just don’t know what the capability will be,” Chavers said of bringing rocks back to Earth inside Orion.

I hadn’t read this article in detail because of its nature, essentially a NASA puff piece pushing the agency’s fantasies. Hat tip to reader Scott M. for pointing it out.

If this absurd design failure doesn’t illustrate the incompetence of our modern NASA and its big contractors, I don’t know what does. I cannot imagine how it is possible for anyone involved in this project to leave out this tiny detail. What point is there to built a spaceship for returning astronauts from planetary missions if you don’t include the capacity to return samples? None.

In fact, this omission is further proof that the goal of Artemis (SLS, Orion, Gateway) is merely to suck money from the taxpayer, without really accomplishing anything. It is also further evidence of my previous conclusion, that NASA’S entire Orion concept is a lie.

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29 comments

  • Cotour

    Zman, you seem to have a typo. You wrote $18 billion dollars for this one system. Shouldn’t it be $1.8 billion?

    $18 billion surely would buy at least a dozen of these.

  • Cotour: Read my policy paper, Capitalism in Space, available as a free download here. That number is real. $18 billion and 20 years to build a capsule for a single first manned mission.

  • Cotour

    Come on, that is just overtly silly.

    $18 billion for one (1) system?

    Ah, I will assume that it also travels in time, and that justifies the cost? Now that makes sense. Money well spent.

    Can it go back in time and get some good footage of Jesus? Maybe an interview? If you can, see if you can have it go forward in time ten and a half or so years and see if we are all still alive or not. If were not here I will stop paying my credit card bills.

  • Cotour: I know you are being a bit sarcastic (for good reason), but I’m not sure “silly” is the right word to describe NASA’s effort here. “Incompetent” maybe. “Corrupt” for sure. “Bankrupt” also comes to mind, as does “idiotic.”

    I could go on, but then, I have been going on about this for about a decade, all to no avail. The boondoggle of Artemis rolls on, accomplishing nothing while spending gobs of tax dollars.

  • Cotour

    I might call it a worthwhile government jobs program and money well spent if there were some level of higher technology that resulted from it, but this system appears to be comprised of known and tested technologies and systems that already exist.

    A “Bit” sarcastic?

    Only in America.

  • Lee S

    Oh my…. , Just oh my…..
    It’s well known I’m a fan of what you guys call “big government”, but I’m a fan of big government that is transparent and willing and able to be held accountable for its actions.
    Why have the design specifications for this publicly funded MASSIVE endeavour not been made public? From what you say, ( I have no intentions of reading this thing either….), This little bombshell has only just been made public.
    I can understand technical details being kept secret… But I can’t wrap my head around the design requirements not being public, or the other option… No one thought to specify a sample return requirement.
    I’m not sure that this throws shade on either the capitalist or socialist models… But it is a flabbergasting rebuttal of the “not just flags and footprints” plan to return to the moon… Unless NASA considers photos valid.
    It’s not my space agency, I don’t contribute to the pot….. But if I did, I would be mighty mad right now to know that so much tax money had been poured into such an underwhelming project.

  • Patrick Underwood

    If I may offer a bit of unsolicited advice… Eric Berger’s writings on NASA and the space industry are not to be missed. He didn’t include that tidbit as NASA puffery. He included it to elicit the exact reaction found here.

  • Michael

    Lee S – “…..big government that is transparent and willing and able to be held accountable for its actions”

    I do not believe there is such an animal.

  • Lee S

    Thanks Patrick…. With the rest of the world on fire, one way or another, it’s always good to have news sources for the one endeavour that brings humanity together!

  • Patrick Underwood

    And yep, that little tidbit is now spreading all over the (space nut) interwebs, causing slack-jawed amazement at every turn. Good job Eric. :)

  • Col Beausabre

    Reminds me of what happened when the US Navy’s General Board was briefed on the original design of the Iowa class battleships. The Bureau of Ordnance had designed the turrets to use the 16 Inch Mark 2 guns left over when a huge program of six battleships and six battlecruisers was cancelled due to the Washington Treaty. Very good, nice and thrifty. But when Bureau of Steam Engineering, responsible for the hull, presented its diagrams, a slight problem was noticed. The turrets did not and could not be made to fit on the barbettes Steam Engineering had designed. The two bureaus, located only blocks from one another, had never coordinated their designs in the years it took to produce the designs. The official minutes of the meeting do not go into details but words like “incredulous” and “stormy” are used. The result was the Mark 2’s were given to the Army for coast defense batteries replacing its own M1919 design while BuOrd designed the new, “light-weight” Mark 6 which would fit in a smaller turret that would fit on the barbettes.

  • “One of the limitations on returning samples is the Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts back from lunar orbit to Earth. Chavers said the Orion spacecraft does not have any designated space for a box of sample rocks taken from the lunar surface. “We just don’t know what the capability will be,” Chavers said of bringing rocks back to Earth inside Orion.

    Lee S wrote:

    “I’m not sure that this throws shade on either the capitalist or socialist models . . ”

    From Wayne’c comment on Excavator Artistry:

    “On April 29th, 2019, Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. was contacted by We Build the Wall to construct a half mile of fence in Sunland Park, New Mexico. The location was deemed “Unbuildable” by government agencies due to the harsh construction conditions. In just over one month of being notified of this project, Fisher procured and fabricated the bollard fence panels and finished all construction within two weeks.”

    I’m sure.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Thanks Lee, yeah tell me about it!

    Berger, Jeff Foust at Spacenews, Keith Cowing at nasawatch (although he can be pretty damn exasperating), the guys at nasaspaceflight, Youtubers Scott Manley, Marcus House and Everyday Astronaut… and of course our esteemed host. Good stuff.

  • Edward

    Well, it is completely understandable that Orion was not designed to carry rocks or samples. After Obama cancelled Constellation and the Bush Moon mission, she was re-tasked and re-designed as a general purpose craft, which means that she is not appropriate for any one mission.

    The previous — second — proposed mission for this (now) generic craft was for her to go to an asteroid to do exploration and carry back samples.

    Wait. Since she was still in development at that time, wouldn’t it have been expected that some carrying capability would have been developed into the updated design?

    The original proposed mission was for her to go on a mission to return to the Moon and carry back samples.

    Wait. Since she was in the design phase at that time, wouldn’t it have been expected that some carrying capability would have been designed-in from the start?

    You would think that sample storage would be of high priority and would be already equipped in the spacecraft. Instead, we get a larger spacecraft than Apollo but with less capability. Talk about going backward …

    If she was not being designed or developed to perform any mission that was proposed for her, what the [ahem] was NASA and the design team thinking? What happened to the requirements document? Shouldn’t the specifications included an obvious (but apparently missing) requirement of carrying samples?

    Maybe they can store some samples in the storage space that was meant for the ROCKY exercise device that was the topic in Robert’s last link.

    This is yet another example of a cluster [bleep].

    From the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”:

    Colonel Meyers: What’s your assessment of this exercise?

    Highway: It’s a cluster [bleep].

    Colonel Meyers: Say again?

    Highway: Marines are fighting men, sir. They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry asses filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.

    Colonel Meyers: Interesting observation.

  • Cotour

    Lets give this some perspective. What does $18,000,000,000.00 buy?

    129, F-22 Raptors @ $150,000,000.00 each.

    6, Virgina claas nuclear submarines @ $3,000,000,000.00 per copy.

    514, 285, automibles @ an average cost of $35,000.00 each.

    400,000,000 liters of Jack Daniels.

    Or you could give every one of the 320,000,000 (million) Americans in the country $56. 25, enough to buy one bottle of Jack Daniels and a couple of good hamburgers with fries.

    And still nothing has from America after spending all of that tax payer money landed on the moon although there appears to be a project focused on doing just that for the last 15 years. How many years and how much money should it take to get to the moon, again?

    We already have done this once or twice, so you would think that they would have a leg up on accomplishing it again, no?

    We have a spending problem in America and not a need for more taxation as is proposed by every single Democrat candidate for president.

  • mkent

    I was wondering when the people on this site were going to catch on to the fact that an Orion actually costs more than an SLS.

  • Andi

    “If you can, see if you can have it go forward in time ten and a half or so years and see if we are all still alive or not.”

    — and while you’re at it, bring back a copy of the stock market reports. :)

  • Richard M

    “Lets give this some perspective. What does $18,000,000,000.00 buy?

    129, F-22 Raptors @ $150,000,000.00 each.

    6, Virgina claas nuclear submarines @ $3,000,000,000.00 per copy.

    514, 285, automibles @ an average cost of $35,000.00 each.

    400,000,000 liters of Jack Daniels.”

    And except for the Jack Daniels, all those things could be used more than once. Rather than, you know, converted to coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and a Smithsonian exhibit after one use.

  • Richard M

    Well, it is completely understandable that Orion was not designed to carry rocks or samples. After Obama cancelled Constellation and the Bush Moon mission, she was re-tasked and re-designed as a general purpose craft, which means that she is not appropriate for any one mission.

    The previous — second — proposed mission for this (now) generic craft was for her to go to an asteroid to do exploration and carry back samples.

    This is a fair point. Orion has undergone some modifications over the years as its mission kept changing. Lunar surface missions were yanked from its plate in 2010 and not restored until 2018.

    Still, it’s astounding that this problem is still sitting unresolved, here in the Year of Our Lord 2019. Though I’m sure LockMart can and will fix it for a generous fee, giving this amazing new crew vehicle which we’re repeatedly assured is far more advanced and capable than 50 year old Apollo, with almost twice the mass and space, the ability to haul back to Earth at least as much lunar surface samples as Apollo 11 managed.

  • wayne

    This thing isn’t going to the Moon, so there’s no reason to have any storage space for return samples.

  • mkent: Actually you are incorrect. SLS will cost at least $25 billion through 2021. Orion is $18 billion though 2021. These numbers are based on the actual numbers appropriated by Congress for each project through 2017 and then extrapolated through 2021. (See Capitalism in Space.)

    This is not to say that Orion is not ridiculously expensive. It is.

  • pzatchok

    The Orion only needs to go to the Gateway and back not actually land in the Moon.

    As for cargo capacity just leave one astronomer on Gateway and we now have room for several hundred pounds of rocks.
    Not quite an elegant solution but it could be done.

  • pzatchok

    Astronaut not astronomer.

    I am getting bad at this tonight.

  • wayne

    “Liar”
    Henry Rollins Band
    https://youtu.be/FFyZ8QU-FgE
    6:31

  • Joe From Houston

    The obvious go-to solution NASA will implement while claiming their hands are tied is trading astronaut seats for duffle bags full of samples in plastic bags.

    This opens the door wide-open to commercial space races of returning moon rocks for sale on ebay at $10k per oz.

  • Patrick Underwood

    If a SpaceX Starship manages to land on the Moon and bring back a single metric ton of dirt, that will be the equivalent of:

    10 to 28 Artemis missions

    (assuming NASA figures out where to stow the samples).

  • Edward

    wayne wrote: “This thing isn’t going to the Moon, so there’s no reason to have any storage space for return samples.

    Although this is realistically true, that Orion is probably not going to fly any operational missions due to obsolescence, the plans have always been to return samples from the Moon or an asteroid, so it is reasonable for us to expect that it had been required to and designed to carry these samples. How could they have screwed the pooch on this one? This is yet another reason for us to believe that Orion is never going to the Moon (low lunar orbit or Gateway orbit).

    Robert,
    One reason it is ridiculously expensive is that its development has been slowed down to meet the SLS schedule. If Orion had been completed on time and no further money spent on it, then a decade (or two or three) later when it was time to use it, no one would be around who knew anything about it to maintain or update it. Instead, the number of technicians and engineers is reduced to slow the pace, but there is still an army of administrators and bean counters being paid for that decade, plus facilities costs.

    It raises the question as to whether those additional costs should be attributed to Orion’s total cost of development or to SLS’s cost. Does the long pole (the long lead time item that is holding up “the show”) get the blame for being slow and should the cost and schedule overruns for the other items be accounted for by the long pole, or do the managers of the other items take the heat? From an accounting point of view, it is easier to keep the costs assigned to where they are charged, especially since Orion has had a few of its own troubles along the way. Thus managers of the other items take some heat that should belong to SLS.

    Had we stayed with Constellation would we already have put the first woman and next man on the Moon? Certainly the overall cost would have been less, and we probably wouldn’t be talking about Gateway as a necessity for going to the Moon but as the next step toward Mars. We might even be planning to put Gateway in a more useful orbit.

    Or maybe I am just dreaming about what could have been.

    Patrick Underwood,
    Unfortunately, that tonne of samples would be from only one location rather than 10 to 28 locations, but I understand your point. Starship can give us much more for much less cost, such as several Moon missions for the cost of one Artemis mission.

  • F16 Guy

    Can’t they just put the samples on the roof rack ?

  • Andi

    And if that’s not sufficient, hook up a U-Haul to the trailer hitch.

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