Orion Spacecraft


Orion is the name of the NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle. Orion will use an advanced crew capsule design utilizing state of the art technology and is a key element of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration and will succeed the Space Shuttle in transporting a new generation of human explorers to and from the International Space Station, the Moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.

The new crew vehicle is designed to be an order of magnitude safer, more reliable, more affordable and more operationally efficient than previous human space flight systems. NASA says Orion will be safer than the shuttle as the capsule will stand atop a rocket, reducing the risk of damage from debris during launch.

Orion PictureOrion is named for one of the brightest, most familiar and easily identifiable constellations. Many of its stars have been used for navigation and guided explorers to new worlds for centuries.

Orion Spacecraft resembles a larger version of the Apollo module that last took men to the Moon in 1972. Orion’s first flight with astronauts onboard is planned for no later than 2014 to the International Space Station. Its first flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020 and to Mars in the distant future.

Unlike the Shuttle, which which flies back to Earth, lands on a runway and can make dozens of flights, Orion will not be reusable. It will be launched into space on a multi-stage rocket named Ares I, which is scheduled to make its first test flight in 2009.

After completing its mission, the capsule will return to Earth by parachute, in the same way as the Apollo capsule. There, however, the similarities mostly end. Orion will take six men into orbit, and be capable of landing as many as four on the Moon. Like the Shuttle it will be able to carry equipment and supplies to the space station.

The new spacecraft uses the basic and proven Apollo design, however it will have superior electronics and computer technology – leading some Nasa officials to call the project “Apollo on steroids”.

NASA has picked a group led by US aerospace company Lockheed Martin Corp as the prime contractor to design, develop, and build the NASA Orion Spacecraft, America’s spacecraft for a new generation of explorers.

Orion will be capable of transporting four crew members for lunar missions and later supporting crew transfers for Mars missions. Orion could also carry up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. Orion will form a key element of extending a sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to advance commerce, science and national leadership. The capsule will replace the aging, three-shuttle fleet that is set to retire in 2010.


Orion will be 16.5 feet in diameter and have a mass of about 25 tons. Inside, it will have more than 2.5 times the volume of an Apollo capsule. The spacecraft will return humans to the moon to stay for long periods as a testing ground for the longer journey to Mars.

Ares-1 Picture

Manufacture and Management

Manufacturing and integration of the vehicle components will take place at contractor facilities across the USA. Lockheed Martin will perform the majority of the Orion vehicle engineering work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, and complete final assembly of the vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. All 10 NASA centers will provide technical and engineering support to the Orion project.

The Lockheed Martin Orion program office is located in Houston, Texas, co-located with NASA’s Johnson Space Center, providing support in the areas of program management, requirements development, software development, avionics, human factors, and system qualification testing. Large structures and composites will be built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. Final assembly, checkout and acceptance testing of Orion for both the Crew Module and Service Module will be performed in the Operations and Checkout facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, manages the Constellation Program and the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Exploration Launch Projects’ office for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Washington.

Orbital to Build Orion Launch-Abort

Orbital Sciences Corporation which develops small space and rocket systems for the government and military will be a subcontractor for Lockheed Martin Corporation in the Orion manned spacecraft project. The deal is worth $250 million over five years. The company will design, build and test a new launch-abort system that will rescue astronauts in an emergency during launch operations as the Orion vehicle heads for orbit. Orbital will also conduct safety and reliability analyses for the entire project.


Aerojet, a GenCorp Inc. unit that specializes in missile and space propulsion will provide the main engine and a cluster of maneuvering engines for the service module of the Orion crew exploration vehicle and also supply a rocket that allows soft landings.


1. NASA began working in July 2005 with the two contractor teams: Northrop Grumman/Boeing and Lockheed Martin to perform concept refinement, trade studies, analysis of requirements and preliminary design options. Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the design, development, testing, and evaluation (DDT and E) of the new spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the design, development, testing, and evaluation of the new spacecraft. The process is expected to last from Sept. 8, 2006 to Sept. 7, 2013. The initial phase is estimated at 3.9 billion dollars.

2. NASA selected on the 31st August 2006 Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor to design, develop, and build Orion, America’s spacecraft for a new generation of explorers. The contract with Lockheed Martin is the conclusion of a two-phase selection process. Lockheed Martin beat out a group that included Northrop Grumman and Boeing for the multi-billion-dollar contract.

Lockheed said the project will generate as many as 2,300 jobs, including some 600 engineers at its Denver space facility alone. That could prompt a secondary loss for Boeing, because some of its engineers could be lured away to work on the endeavor.

Did you know?

* NASA decided to retire its winged Space Shuttle fleet by 2010 to meet President George W. Bush’s vision for space exploration following the 2003 Columbia shuttle tragedy. The Space Shuttle is only designed for low Earth orbit missions.

* The Orion name has been used in other space projects. Orion was the name of the lunar module of the Apollo 16 manned mission to the moon in 1972. Project Orion was a study for a spacecraft powered by nuclear pulse propulsion in the 1950’s.

* In June, NASA announced the launch vehicles under development by the Constellation Program have been named Ares, a synonym for Mars. The booster that will launch Orion will be called Ares I, and a larger heavy-lift launch vehicle will be known as Ares V.

* The last time NASA awarded a manned spaceship contract to Lockheed Martin was in 1996 for the X-33 space plane that was supposed to replace the space shuttle. NASA spent $912 million and never got built because of technical problems and was cancelled in 2001.

* Nasa’s timetable calls for a Moon landing by 2020 – almost half a century after the Apollo 17 mission of December 1972, when men landed on the Moon for the last time. Some time after that, Orion might attempt to travel to Mars in the first manned mission to another planet in the solar system.

Picture above shows what it might look like when an Orion crew vehicle is launched on Ares 1 rocket.

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