The "Orion" Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is a planned beyond-low-earth-orbit manned spacecraft that is being built by Lockheed Martin for NASA based on designs and tests already completed as part of the now-cancelled Constellation program, development for which began in 2005 as the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The MPCV was announced by NASA on 24 May 2011.[1] The MPCV's debut unmanned multi-hour test flight, known as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), is scheduled for a launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2014.[2][3][4] The first manned mission is expected to take place after 2020.[5]

Orion spacecraft launch configuration (2009 revision)


The MPCV is being developed for crewed missions to the moon, an asteroid and then to Mars. The capsule is also planned as a backup vehicle for cargo and crewed missions to the International Space Station. It will be launched by the Space Launch System.[6][7] A modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit is planned to be worn by the crew during the launch and re-entry of the mission.[8]

2009 Human Space Flight Plans Committee

On 8 September 2009, the Human Space Flight Plans Committee was scheduled to release a report proposing a short list of different long term plans for the US Government's human space flight program. The review was commissioned by the Obama Administration to take into account several objectives. These include support for the International Space Station, development of missions beyond low Earth orbit (including the Moon) and use of commercial space industry. These objectives must fit within a defined budget profile.[9]

Among the parameters to be considered in the course of the review are "crew and mission safety, life-cycle costs, development time, national space industrial base impacts, potential to spur innovation and encourage competition, and the implications and impacts of transitioning from current human space flight systems". The review considered the appropriate amounts of research and development and "complementary robotic activity necessary to support various human space flight activities". It also "explores options for extending International Space Station operations beyond 2016".[10]


The Orion Crew and Service Module (CSM) stack consists of two main parts: a conical Crew Module (CM), and a cylindrical Service Module (SM) holding the spacecraft's propulsion system and expendable supplies. Both are based substantially on the Apollo Command and Service Modules (Apollo CSM) flown between 1967 and 1975, but include advances derived from the space shuttle program. "Going with known technology and known solutions lowers the risk," according to Neil Woodward, director of the integration office in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.[11]

The MPCV resembles its Apollo-era predecessors, but its technology and capability are more advanced. It is designed to support long-duration deep space missions of up to six months. The spacecraft's life support, propulsion, thermal protection and avionics systems are designed to be upgradeable as new technologies become available.

The MPCV spacecraft includes both crew and service modules, and a spacecraft adaptor.

The MPCV's crew module is larger than Apollo's and can support more crew members for short or long-duration spaceflight missions. The service module fuels and propels the spacecraft as well as storing oxygen and water for astronauts. The service module's structure is also being designed to provide locations to mount scientific experiments and cargo.

Crew Module

The Orion CM will hold four to six crew members, compared to a maximum of three in the smaller Apollo CM or seven in the larger space shuttle. Despite its conceptual resemblance to the 1960s-era Apollo, Orion's CM will use several improved technologies, including:

  • "Glass cockpit" digital control systems derived from that of the Boeing 787.[12]
  • An "autodock" feature, like those of Russian Progress spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, with provision for the flight crew to take over in an emergency. Previous American spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle) have all required manual piloting for docking.
  • Improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet and the unisex "relief tube" used on the space shuttle (whose system was based on that used on Skylab) and the International Space Station (based on the Soyuz, Salyut, and Mir systems). This eliminates the use of the much-hated plastic "Apollo bags" used by the Apollo crews.
  • A nitrogen/oxygen (N2/O2) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (101.3 kPa or 14.69 psi) or slightly reduced (55.2 to 70.3 kPa or 8.01 to 10.20 psi) pressure.
  • Much more advanced computers than on previous manned spacecraft.

Another feature will be the partial reusability of the Orion CM. NASA aims to reuse each craft for up to ten flights, allowing it to build a fleet of both manned and unmanned Orion CMs. Both the CM and SM will be constructed of the aluminium lithium (Al/Li) alloy like that was used on the shuttle's external tank, and is in use on the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. The CM itself will be covered in the same Nomex felt-like thermal protection blankets used on parts on the shuttle not subject to critical heating, such as the payload bay doors. The reusable recovery parachutes will be based on the parachutes used on both the Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, and will also use the same Nomex cloth for construction. Water landings will be the exclusive means of recovery for the Orion CM.[13][14]

To allow Orion to mate with other vehicles it will be equipped with the NASA Docking System, which is somewhat similar to the APAS-95 docking mechanism used on the Shuttle fleet. Both the spacecraft and docking adapter will employ a Launch Escape System (LES) like that used in Mercury and Apollo, along with an Apollo-derived "Boost Protective Cover" (made of fiberglass), to protect the Orion CM from aerodynamic and impact stresses during the first Template:Frac minutes of ascent.

The Orion Crew Module (CM) is a 57.5° frustum shape, similar to that of the Apollo Command Module. As projected, the CM will be 5.02 meters (16 ft 6 in) in diameter and 3.3 meters (10 ft 10 in) in length,[30] with a mass of about 8.5 metric tons (19,000 lb) It is to be built by the Lockheed Martin Corporation. It will have more than 2.5 times the volume of an Apollo capsule, which had an interior volume of 5.9 m3 (210 cu ft), and will carry four to six astronauts.[32] After extensive study, NASA has selected the Avcoat ablator system for the Orion crew module. Avcoat, which is composed of silica fibers with a resin in a honeycomb made of fiberglass and phenolic resin, was previously used on the Apollo missions and on select areas of the space shuttle for early flights.[33]

The crew module is the transportation capsule that provides a habitat for the crew, provides storage for consumables and research instruments, and serves as the docking port for crew transfers. The crew module is the only part of the MPCV that returns to Earth after each mission.

The crew module will have 316 cubic feet (8.9 m3) and capabilities of carrying four astronauts for 21 day flights itself which could be expanded through additional service modules.[15] Its designers claim that the MPCV is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and reentry than the Space Shuttle.[7]

Service Module

The service module designed for Orion will serve as the primary power and propulsion component of the spacecraft system, and like its predecessors, will be discarded at the end of each mission. Roughly cylindrical in shape, the Orion service module, like the crew module, will be constructed of Al-Li alloy (to keep weight down), and will feature a pair of deployable circular solar panels, similar in design to the panels used on the Mars Phoenix lander. The panels, the first to be used on a U.S. manned spacecraft (except for a 10-year period, the Soviet/Russian Soyuz spacecraft has used them since the first mission in 1967), will allow NASA to eliminate the need to carry malfunction-prone fuel cells, and its associated hardware (mainly LH2 tanks) from the service module, resulting in a shorter, yet more maneuverable spacecraft. Successful initial testing of an Orion solar array design using full-scale "UltraFlex wing" hardware was reported in October, 2008.[16]

The Orion Main Engine (OME) is a 7500-pound thrust, pressure-fed, regeneratively cooled, storable bi-propellant rocket engine made by Aerojet. The OME is an increased performance version of the 6000-pound thrust rocket engine used by the Space Shuttle for its Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS). The SM Reaction Control System (RCS), the spacecraft's maneuvering thrusters (originally based on the Apollo "quad" system, but currently resembles that used on Gemini), will also be pressure-fed, and will use the same propellants. NASA believes the SM RCS would be able to act as a backup for a trans-Earth injection (TEI) burn in case the main SM engine fails.

A pair of LOX tanks (similar to those used in the Apollo SM) will provide, along with small tanks of nitrogen, the crew with breathing air at sea-level or "cruising altitude" pressure (10.2 to 14.7 psi), with a small "surge tank" providing necessary life support during reentry and touchdown. Lithium hydroxide (LiOH) cartridges will recycle the spacecraft's environmental system by "scrubbing" the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled by the astronauts from ship's air and adding fresh oxygen and nitrogen, which is then cycled back out into the system loop. Because of the switch from fuel cells to solar panels, the service module will have an onboard water tank which will provide drinking water for the crew, and (when mixed with glycol), cooling water for the spacecraft's electronics. Unlike the practice during Apollo of dumping both water and urine overboard during the flight, the Orion will have an onboard recycling system, identical to that used on the International Space Station, that will convert both waste water and urine into both drinking and cooling water.

The Service Module also mounts the spacecraft's waste heat management system (its radiators) and the aforementioned solar panels. These panels, along with backup batteries located in the Orion CM, will provide in-flight power to the ship's systems. The voltage, 28 volts DC, is similar to that used on the Apollo spacecraft during flight.

Like the Orion crew module, the Orion service module will be encapsulated by a fiberglass shroud that would be jettisoned at the same time as the LES/Boost Protective Cover, which would take place roughly 2½ minutes after launch (30 seconds after the solid rocket first stage is jettisoned). Prior to the "Orion 606" redesign, the Orion SM resembled a squat, enlarged version of the Apollo Service Module. The new "Orion 606" SM design retains the 5-meter width for the attachments of the Orion SM with the Orion CM, but utilizes a Soyuz-like service module design that allows Lockheed Martin to make the vehicle lighter in weight and permitting the attachment of the circular solar panels at the module's midpoints, like that of the Soyuz, instead of at the base near the spacecraft/rocket adapter, which may subject the panels to damage.

The Orion service module (SM) is projected comprising a cylindrical shape, having a diameter of 5.03 m (16 ft 6 in) and an overall length (including thruster) of 4.78 m (15 ft 8 in). With solar panels extended, span is either 17.00 m (55.77 ft) or 55.00 ft (16.76 m). The projected empty mass is 3,700 kg (8,000 lb), fuel capacity is 8,300 kg (18,000 lb).[17][18]

Like the Apollo service modules, the MPCV service module supports the crew module from launch through separation prior to reentry. It provides in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control, and high altitude ascent aborts. When mated with the crew module, it provides the water and oxygen needed for a habitable environment, generates and stores electrical power while on-orbit, and maintains the temperature of the vehicle's systems and components.

This module can also transport unpressurized cargo and scientific payloads.

NASA is seriously considering having the ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle evolve into the role of Orion's Service Module sometime after 2015.[4] On November 21st, 2012, the ESA decided they will construct an ATV derived Service Module ready to support the Orion capsule on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System in 2017.[19] Service module will likely be manufactured by EADS Astrium in Bremen, Germany.[20]

An inflatable seal between the clean room and the Orion space capsule which is superior to the ones used on Apollo and the shuttle was test on December 3rd, 2012.[21]

Launch Abort System

Technicians carefully position an Orion flight test crew module

Technicians carefully position an Orion flight test crew module to be airlifted. This module will be used for the Orion Launch Abort System Pad Abort-1 flight test.

Orion parachute test

Test of Orion's parachute system on 18 July 2012.

In the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent, a launch escape system called the Launch Abort System (LAS) will separate the Crew Module from the launch vehicle using a solid rocket-powered launch abort motor (AM), which is more powerful than the Atlas 109-D booster that launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.[22] There are two other propulsion systems in the LAS stack: the attitude control motor (ACM) and the jettison motor (JM). On 10 July 2007, Orbital Sciences, the prime contractor for the LAS, awarded Alliant Techsystems (ATK) a $62.5 million sub-contract to, "design, develop, produce, test and deliver the launch abort motor." ATK, which had the prime contract for the first stage of the Ares I rocket, intended to use an innovative "reverse flow" design for the motor.[23] On 9 July 2008 NASA announced that ATK had completed a vertical test stand at a facility in Promontory, Utah to test launch abort motors for the Orion spacecraft.[24] Another long-time space motor contractor, Aerojet, was awarded the jettison motor design and development contract for the LAS. As of September 2008 Aerojet has, along with team members Orbital Sciences, Lockheed Martin and NASA, successfully demonstrated two full-scale test firings of the jettison motor. This motor is important to every flight in that it functions to pull the LAS tower away from the vehicle after a successful launch. The motor also functions in the same manner for an abort scenario.

Another idea, recently floated by NASA, would see the LAS tower being replaced with the so-called Max Launch Abort System (MLAS), in which four existing solid-rocket motors, integrated into the boost protective cover and placed at 90° intervals, would fire and pull the Orion crew module away from an Ares I rocket in the event of a launchpad or in-flight abort during the first 2½ minutes of launch. If implemented in place of the LAS, the MLAS would allow NASA to further reduce the weight of the Orion/Ares I stack (which has been described by critics as being overweight). The MLAS design, which is shaped like a bullet, would reduce stresses on both the spacecraft and the launch vehicle, as well as reducing the overall height by 20–25 feet.


Environmental testing

NASA performed environmental testing of Orion from 2007 to 2011 at the Glenn Research Center Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. The Center's Space Power Facility is the world's largest thermal vacuum chamber.[25]


Orion prior to Pad Abort 1

Aerial view of the launch abort system prior to the Pad Abort-1 (PA-1) flight test on 6 May 2010.

On 2 March 2009, the LAS Pathfinder began its transfer from the Langley Research Center to the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for launch tests. The Pathfinder is a combination of the Orion Boilerplate and LAS module. The 69-long rocket assembly will begin its first Pad Abort 1 Test on the Missile Range.[26]

Abort Flight Test (AFT)


Test-firing of Orion LAS jettison motor (shock diamonds are clearly visible in the exhaust plumes)

Orion water test

NASA and Department of Defense personnel familiarize themselves with a Navy-built, 18,000-pound Orion mock-up in a test pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in Potomac, Md.

NASA will perform a series of six Abort Flight Tests between the fall of 2008 and the end of 2011 at the United States Army's White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico.Template:Update after The Orion AFT subproject includes two pad abort tests and four ascent abort tests. Three of the four ascent aborts are planned to be flown from a special test launch vehicle, the Orion Abort Test Booster, the fourth one being performed with Ares I-Y. The Orion Abort Flight Tests are similar in nature to the Little Joe II tests performed at WSMR between September 1963 and January 1966 in support of the development of the Apollo program's Launch Escape System.[27][28][29] The LAS Pathfinder boilerplate is being used.

ATK successfully completed the first Orion launch-abort test on 20 November 2008. The abort motor will provide 500,000 lbf (2,200 kN)   of thrust for an emergency on the launch pad or during the first 300,000 feet (91 km) of the rocket's climb to orbit. The test firing was the first time a motor with reverse flow propulsion technology at this scale has been tested.

This abort test firing brought together a series of motor and component tests conducted in 2008 as a preparation for the next major milestone, a full-size mock-up or boilerplate test scheduled for the spring of 2009.[30]

Post-landing Orion Recovery Test (PORT)

The PORT Test is to determine and evaluate what kind of motions the astronaut crew can expect after landing. This will include conditions outside the capsule for the recovery team. The evaluation process will support NASA's design of landing recovery operations including equipment, ship and crew necessities.

The Port Test will use a full-scale boilerplate of NASA's Orion crew module and will be tested in water under simulated and real weather conditions. Tests began 23 March 2009 with a Navy-built, 18,000-pound boilerplate. It will be placed in a test pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Full sea testing will begin 6 April 2009, in a special location off the coast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center with media coverage.[31]


List only includes relatively near missions, more missions are planned than are listed below.

Acronym Mission name Launch Date Rocket Duration Remarks
EFT-1 Exploration Flight Test-1 Early 2014 Delta IV Heavy Uncrewed high apogee trajectory test flight of the Orion Crew Module in Earth Orbit.
EM-1 Exploration Mission-1


2017[32] SLS Block I[32] 7-10 days[33] Send an uncrewed Orion on a circumlunar trajectory.[33]
EM-2 Exploration Mission-2[32] 2019-2021[32] SLS Block I[32] 10-14 days[33] Send Orion with a crew of four into Lunar orbit.[33]
EM-3 Exploration Mission-3[32] 2022[34] SLS Block IA[32] Destination TBA[34]

Existing craft and mockups

Orion Drop Test on Feb 29

The Orion Drop Test Article during a test on 29 February 2012

  • The Boilerplate Test Article (BTA) underwent splashdown testing at the Hydro Impact Basin of NASA's Langley Research Center.[35] The BTA contains over 150 sensors to gather data on its test drops.[36] Testing of the 18,000 pound mockup ran from July 2011 to 6 January 2012.[37]
  • The Ground Test Article (GTA) stack, located at Lockheed Martin in Denver, is undergoing vibration testing.[38] It is made up by the Orion Ground Test Vehicle (GTV) combined with its Launch Abort System (LAS). Further testing will see the addition of Service Module simulator panels and Thermal Protection System (TPS) to the GTA stack.[39]
  • The Drop Test Article (DTA), also known as the Drop Test Vehicle (DTV) is undergoing test drops at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The mock Orion parachute compartment is dropped from an altitude of 25,000 feet from a C-130.[39] Testing began in 2007. Drogue chutes deploy around 15,000 and 20,000 feet. Testing of the reefing staged parachutes includes partial failure instances including partial opening and complete failure of one of the three main parachutes. With only two chutes deployed the DTA lands at 33 feet per second, the maximum touchdown speed for Orion's design.[40] Other related test vehicles include the now defunct Orion Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) and it's replacement the Generation II Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV2). The drop test program has had several failures in 2007, 2008, and 2010.[41] The new PTV was successfully tested 29 February 2012 deploying from a C-17. Ten drag chutes will drag the mock up's pallet from the aircraft for the drop at 25,000 feet. The landing parachute set of eight is known as the Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS).[42] The test examined air flow disturbance behind the mimicked full size vehicle and it's affects on the parachute system. The PTV landed at 17 mph to the desert floor.[43] A third test vehicle, the PCDTV3, is scheduled for a drop on 17 April 2012. In this testing “The CPAS team continued preparation activities for the Parachute Compartment Drop Test Vehicle (PCDTV3) airdrop test, scheduled for April 17, which will deploy the two drogue parachutes in the highest dynamic pressure environment to date, and will demonstrate a main parachute skipped second stage.”[44]
  • Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) Orion (re-designation of OFT-1) constructed at Michoud Assembly Facility,[4] was delivered by Lockheed Martin to the Kennedy Space Center on July 2, 2012.[45]

Orion Lite

Orion Lite was an unofficial name used in the media for a lightweight crew capsule proposed by Bigelow Aerospace in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. It was to be based on the Orion spacecraft that Lockheed Martin was developing for NASA. It would be a lighter, less capable and cheaper version of the full Orion.

The intention of designing Orion Lite would be to provide a stripped down version of the Orion that will be available for missions to the International Space Station earlier than the more capable Orion, which is designed for longer duration missions to the Moon, Mars, Lagrange points, and Near Earth asteroids.[46]

Bigelow began working with Lockheed Martin in 2004. A few years later Bigelow signed a million-dollar contract to develop "an Orion mockup, an Orion Lite."[47]

Orion Lite's primary mission would be to transport crew to the International Space Station, or to private space stations such as the proposed Sundancer from Bigelow Aerospace. While Orion Lite would have relatively the same exterior dimensions as the Orion, there would be no need for the deep space infrastructure present in the Orion configuration. As such, the Orion Lite will be able to support larger crews of around 7 people as the result of greater habitable interior volume and the reduced weight of equipment needed to support an exclusively low-Earth-orbit configuration.[48]

The Orion Lite is also not to be confused with the Orion Crew Return Vehicle, a scaled down version of Orion proposed by the Obama administration. In an earlier budget proposal the Orion had been slated for cancellation altogether.[49]

Launch systems

The Orion Lite is proposed to be compatible with multiple launchers, including the existing Atlas V rocket. A human-rated version of the Atlas V would have to be developed in conjunction with the Orion Lite. Work on this has started, funded by stimulus funds granted under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Likewise, a human-rated version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 has also been suggested by Bigelow as a possible launch system.[48]

Program status

Both the proposed collaboration between Bigelow and Lockheed Martin and the Orion Lite itself appear to have been dropped. Bigelow is now working on a similar capsule, the CST-100, with Boeing. Under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace have since been awarded funding for preliminary work on this capsule, which has no Orion heritage. The name Orion Lite has also been used for this capsule,[citation needed] though this is not correct.

Other sources indicate that the Orion Lite project may not have been abandoned by Bigelow. In January 2011, Pat Hynes of the Space Grant Consortium wrote in the Las Cruces Sun-News that Bigelow still plans to use Orion Lite to transport customers to the Bigelow space station.[50]


Genesis retrieval

A helicopter with a long hook can catch a parachuting object in mid-air, as seen here in a practice run for the planned retrieval of Genesis.

In order to reduce the weight of Orion Lite, the more durable heat shield of the Orion would be replaced with a lighter weight heat shield designed to support the lower temperatures of Earth atmospheric re-entry from low Earth orbit. Additionally, the current proposal calls for a mid-air retrieval, wherein another aircraft captures the descending Orion Lite module. To date, such a retrieval method has not been employed for manned spacecraft, although it has been used with satellites.[51]

Orion Concept's Gallery

See also

MPCV Related:

CCDev 1 & 2 and CCiCap (formerly CCDev 3) Related:

COTS Related:

Other Countries:


This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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