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NASA’s MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is America’s next crewed spacecraft
following the retirement of the Space Shuttle. It is based on the Orion design
requirements for travelling beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on deep space missions
to explore and study interplanetary destinations.
Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is being built by Lockheed Martin for NASA
based on designs and tests already completed for the Orion spacecraft.
The Orion/MPCV spacecraft was designed from program inception to serve as the
USA’s next generation spacecraft to take humans far beyond low Earth orbit to
multiple destinations throughout our solar system. Lockheed Martin has the
contract to develop the MPCV.
The MPCV resembles its Apollo-era predecessor, but its technology and capability
are very advanced. To support long-duration deep space missions of up to six
months, NASA engineers are developing a state-of-the-art spacecraft. The MPCV's
unique life support, propulsion, thermal protection and avionics systems will
enable integration of new technical innovations in the future.
Building upon the best of human spaceflight design and experience, the MPCV
spacecraft includes both crew and service modules and a spacecraft adaptor.
The MPCV's crew module is much larger than Apollo's and can support more crew
members for short or long-duration spaceflight missions. The service module is
the powerhouse that fuels and propels the spacecraft as well as the storehouse
for the oxygen and water astronauts need during their space travels. The service
module's structure will also provide places to mount scientific experiments and
The MPCV is being developed for crewed missions to 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.
The MPCV will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to
space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space
travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
1. LEO Spacecraft to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond
2. Capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking,
extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by SLS for
missions beyond LEO.
3. Capability to be a backup system for ISS cargo and crew delivery.
The MPCV has three main systems:
Launch Abort System
The Launch Abort System (LAS) rockets fire to pull the astronauts to safety
if something goes wrong with the booster early in the flight. It is
positioned on a tower atop the crew module. It activates within
milliseconds to propel the crew module to safety in the event of an
emergency during launch or climb to orbit. The system also protects the
crew module from dangerous atmospheric loads and heating, then jettisons
after the MPCV is through the initial mission phase of ascent to orbit.
The crew module is the transportation capsule that provides a safe 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 8.9 m3 (316 cubic feet) and capabilities of
carrying four astronauts for missions lasting up to 3 weeks. The flights
time can be expanded through additional service modules. The MPCV is
designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than the Space
Length: 8m (26 ft)
Lift-off Weight: 21,250kg (46,848 lb)
Pressurized Volume: 690 cubic feet.
Capsule Habitable Space: 316 cubic feet
The Service Module carries main rocket engine for propulsion, large solar
panels for generating electrical power and breathing oxygen for astronauts
The 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.
Spacecraft Adapter attaches the MPCV spacecraft to the booster rocket. The
Instrument Unit contains guidance and control electronics for the booster
Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is a Shuttle-Derived heavy launch vehicle
being designed by NASA, following the cancellation of the Constellation
Program, to replace the Space Shuttle after its retirement. The NASA
Authorization Act of 2010 envisions the transformation of the Ares I and
Ares V vehicle designs into a single launch vehicle usable for both crew
and cargo. It is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions.
Crew Launch Vehicle Lift-off Weight Length Overal Flight
MPCV (Lockheed Martin, USA) 4 2016 SLS
21,250kg (46,848 lb) 8m (26 ft)
Soyuz (RSC Energia, Russia) 3 1967 Soyuz Rocket
7,150kg (15,763 lb) 7.5m (24.5 ft)
Shenzhou (China) 3 2003 Long March 2F
7,600kg 916,760 lb) 9.25m (30ft)
Apollo (Rockwell, USA) 3 1968 Saturn
30,332 kg (66,871 lb) 11m (36ft)
Dragon (SpaceX, USA) 7 2014 Falcon
12,000 kg (26,460 lb) 6.2m (20.4 ft)
Space Shuttle Orbiter (Rockwell,) 7 1981 STS
109,000kg (240,000 lb)
Space Transportation System (STS)
Space Launch System (SLS)
Orion was a capsule designed for a moon landing under US president George
Bush as part of the Constellation space program. The Constellation program,
including the Ares launch vehicle family, was cancelled by president Barack
Obama in 2010 over budgetary concerns; Obama continued development of the
Orion despite cancellation of its launch vehicle.
The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) was announced by NASA on 24 May 2011.
The MPCV was a new spacecraft based on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehiclethat was related to the Constellation program, which has been in
development since 2005.
The NASA Authorization Act 2010 set out a clear path forward for NASA to
use the private sector partners for space transportation to the
International Space Station and for NASA to focus on deep space
Language contained in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed into law
on 11 October, stipulated that NASA develop, a 'multi-purpose crew vehicle'
to operate beyond low earth orbit.
One immediate difference, perhaps the only one besides the name, is the
mission of the new spacecraft: while Orion was designed primarily to
transport astronauts to the moon and return them to earth, a journey of
perhaps eight days, MPCV is designed as a 'deep space' craft capable of sustaining a 21-day mission. "The approach on this vehicle is primarily for
launch and entry with in-space capabilities for certain periods of time,"
said Cooke. "For longer term missions that are much longer than 21 days, we
would assume that we have in-space habitation in a larger compartment or
module just because the crew need more space for a longer period of time."
NASA has not established a design freeze or launch date for MPCV, and noted
that while the target mass is 28 tons, that number is subject to
fluctuation as the design matures.
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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014
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