NASA’s Orion ‘moon’ craft unveiled

US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin on Tuesday unveiled a test version of a NASA shuttle that will allow astronauts to fly to and from the International Space station.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2011, 00:41 AM IST

London: US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin on Tuesday unveiled a test version of a NASA shuttle that will allow astronauts to fly to and from the International Space station.
The Orion ‘moon’ craft, which was initially meant to return humans to the moon until US President Barack Obama axed the project, has been given a new lease of life as a docking vehicle, reports the Daily Mail.

NASA hope two of the spacecraft could also be used to support a long-duration mission to an asteroid as early as 2019.

The moon craft, however, has a much more limited role of supporting missions at the International Space Station, which is just above the Earth``s orbit.

To facilitate this, designers Lockheed Martin have built a huge test area at its Waterton Canyon site south of Denver, where full-size mock-ups both the station and Orion can practice manoeuvres.

The test version of the pod, though bare of the ceramic covering on the outside, is complete inside.

Orion was originally part of former President George W. Bush’s 100-billion-dollars moon mission ‘Constellation’.

Obama, who cancelled the project last year, revived the Orion portion of the project two months later, with the administration officials saying it would be the space station’s escape vehicle.

NASA is now considering at least two roles for future manned spacecraft, including servicing the space station in low Earth orbit and going on longer, more distant missions.

“Orion is going to evolve from what it was under the previous Constellation program into what it needs to become as part of the multipurpose crew vehicle,” said NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs.

Lockheed Martin officials touted Orion as America``s next generation spacecraft that could first explore the far side of the moon then land humans on asteroids and eventually take them to one of the moons of Mars, where they could control robotic instruments on the surface.

Orion includes a module for crew and cargo, a service module for propulsion, electrical power and other requirements, and a launch-abort system to carry the capsule to safety if the booster rocket fails.

The first Orion capsule is being assembled in another building at Lockheed Martin``s Waterton Canyon site. It will be used for ground testing and could possibly be launched into a suborbital test flight, said James Bray, Lockheed``s crew and service module director.

Bray said the test results would be used in the engineering of the first Orion capsule to fly in space. Work on that capsule is expected to start in August.

The first orbital space flight of an Orion capsule is expected in 2013.

ANI