October 20, 2017

04.06.11: MPCV=Orion Reborn?

MPCV in Martian orbit. (Artist’s concept/NASA).

NASA may just have new marching orders for the post-shuttle era. Recently, NASA and Lockheed Martin announced a re-designation of its Orion (That OTHER Orion, not the Dyson one that shoots nukes out the back!) capsule as the MPCV, or the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The project had been in the doldrums since the cancellation of the Constellation program, and fans of manned spaceflight had wondered what was next for NASA with only one space shuttle flight remaining. Many of the integrated systems, such as the capsule abort system had already been tested; the recent final mission of STS-134 and space shuttle Endeavour tested the new rendezvous radar system entitled STORRM that will be part of the MPCV. The system is designed to be expandable, with early flights headed to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and then more ambitious missions envisioned to Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and Mars. Of course, this will mean expansion of the current payload capacity and modules; it’s hard to envision a crew of four astronauts in 316 cubic feet for a round trip journey to the Red Planet. Supply capabilities will provide for 21 missions initially, and yes, this is a return to an “Apollo on ‘roids” style of spacecraft.

Is the MPCV worth it? Certainly, having some sort of overreaching direction for NASA and manned spaceflight is a good thing; when the arguments are said and done, most space advocates fear the “no direction/no mission” option the most. To truly catch the public’s imagination once again, we need to get out of LEO and start back into the business of exploring. The great question mark is the lift vehicle that will hoist the MPCV into orbit; talk is to be space-bound by 2016, but of course that is very tentative. Several NEA’s are on the potential target list through 2030, and celestial mechanics wait for no man or politician… let’s get out into the solar system!

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  1. [...] phase. Astronauts will continue to ride up to low-Earth orbit via the Soyuz spacecraft, and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will eventually see astronauts departing from the Florida Space coast [...]

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