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NASA Names CEV Orion

By | August 28, 2006

      NASA will name the next-generation American spaceship Orion, a cosmic traveler that will take astronauts to the moon, Mars and beyond, the space agency announced last week.

      The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which will replace the space shuttle fleet, will be built either by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] or by a team headed by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and featuring The Boeing Co. [BA].

      NASA may select the winner of the competition on Aug. 31.

      Orion’s first flight with astronauts onboard is planned for no later than 2014, going to the International Space Station. The first Orion flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020.

      Orion 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,” said Orion Project Manager Skip Hatfield.

      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.

      Orion will be capable of transporting cargo and up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. It can carry four crewmembers for lunar missions. Later, it can support crew transfers for Mars missions.

      The CEV spacecraft will be smaller than the space shuttles, which had huge cargo bays designed to carry large structural components aloft for construction of the space station.

      Orion borrows its cone-like shape from space capsules of the past, but takes advantage of the latest technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems. The capsule’s conical shape is the safest and most reliable for re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, especially at the velocities required for a direct return from the moon.

      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 U.S. spacecraft that carried the first human beings to the moon. Orion will return humans to the moon to stay for long periods as a testing ground for the longer journey to Mars.

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