NASA Authorization Act Calls for Study of Sending Orion to Space Station

NASA astronaut Suni Williams exits a test version of the Orion spacecraft in the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston. The testing is helping NASA identify the best ways to efficiently get astronauts out of the spacecraft after deep space missions. (Credit: NASA)

The Senate-approved NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 would require the space agency to conduct a study of whether the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would be capable of carrying crews and supplies to the International Space Station.

The measures refers to the previous NASA authorization act passed in 2010 that required Orion to serve as a backup in case there were problems with the commercial crew vehicles now being developed by Boeing and SpaceX.

Under the required study, NASA would confirm that spacecraft has the capability to service the space station, determine which launch vehicle(s) other than the Space Launch System (SLS) it could fly on, and estimate the cost and schedule impacts on planned SLS and Orion flights.

The relevant part of the authorization bill is reproduced below.

(e) Report.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report addressing the ability of Orion to meet the needs and the minimum capability requirements described in section 303(b)(3) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (42 U.S.C. 18323(b)(3)).

(2) CONTENTS.—The report shall detail—

(A) those components and systems of Orion that ensure it is in compliance with section 303(b)(3) of that Act (42 U.S.C. 18323(b)(3));

(B) the expected date that Orion, integrated with a vehicle other than the Space Launch System, could be available to transport crew and cargo to the ISS;

(C) any impacts to the deep space exploration missions under subsection (f) of this section due to enabling Orion to meet the minimum capability requirements described in section 303(b)(3) of that Act (42 U.S.C. 18323(b)(3)) and conducting the mission described in subparagraph (B) of this paragraph; and

(D) the overall cost and schedule impacts associated with enabling Orion to meet the minimum capability requirements described in section 303(b)(3) of that Act (42 U.S.C. 18323(b)(3)) and conducting the mission described in subparagraph (B) of this paragraph.

  • windbourne

    This should be interesting. I wonder if it will light a fire on Boeing and SX?

  • Hug Doug

    I don’t see how it possibly can. Even on another LV, Orion is still not going to be ready for crew flight prior to Dragon v2 or Starliner. The ECLSS for Orion is nowhere near ready to fly.

  • Bill Clawson

    A study isn’t all that unreasonable, though I suspect the cost for flying Orion to ISS would be the deciding factor. Also, what rocket would you strap to the capsule to get it up there?

  • brightlight

    Probably SLS. That’s one way to get the flight rates up.

  • windbourne

    wow. Seriously? They have spent some 5B on it and have been at this since the 00s. And it is not ready to fly. Are you sure?
    I am going to have to ask a couple of the engineers that I know working on it.
    That is just a f……ing waste of money if this is true.

  • My guess is OATK’s EELV Ares-I redo.

  • newpapyrus

    As a deep space vehicle, the Orion is a dead end, IMO.

    This will become blatantly apparent once single stage reusable (about 12 times) propellant depot fueled lunar landing vehicles are deployed to operate between EML1 and the lunar surface. Such reusable vehicles could easily be used to transport humans between propellant depots located at LEO and near an EML1 deep space habitat.

    The Senate should actually be looking into using Boeing’s CST-100 on top of the SLS for LEO missions since both should be operational by 2019. Having a crewed backup launch system for the Falcon 9, Atlas V, and the future Vulcan launch vehicle would probably be a good idea, IMO.

    The SLS would also have the advantage of being able to easily carry an additional crew vehicle within an 8.4 meter wide cargo area in case large numbers of people need to be rescued from large LEO orbiting commercial habitats that may be critically damaged.

    The Senate should also be looking into using the SLS to deploy large EUS derived space habitats to replace the ISS as a cheap way station for beyond LEO missions rather than as a hyper expensive ISS type of space laboratory. Private companies could deploy small space labs nearby that could be periodically attended to by astronauts in Flexcraft vehicles based at the EUS derived habitat.

    Marcel

  • Scott Pace is just the guy to bring back the glory years of the corn dog.

  • That’s been true since about 2005 as far as I can tell.

  • passinglurker

    Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Orion have weight problems that ultimately rendered the Ares-I impractical for lifting Orion? Also isn’t Orbital ATK’s “Next-Generation” EELV smaller than Ares-1?

  • Where there’s a check… err, I mean a WILL, there’s a way!

    OATK has said they want to be in the human spaceflight game, I’m sure they can use that 5 segment SRB and size an upper stage to match. And if they are only going to the ISS, then Orion can either unload fuel or act as a 3rd stage. The fact they are also negotiating a VAB lease makes me think it’s a possibility.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    A single test flight of the Orion to the ISS to check rendezvous and docking facilities makes sense. But at the very high price of the expendable Orion a second flight does not.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I thought it was $10B….and counting….or is it $10B by EM-1

    “That is just a f……ing waste of money if this is true.”
    That’s not completely fair, there’s probably a few politicians/corporate types that will be getting wealthier off the back of such a study.

  • Paul451

    IIRC, the docking system also won’t be developed until Block II. Accelerating that by 5 years means bumping something else.

    Simultaneously developing that, while also accelerating ECLSS development by 2-3yrs, means that a Big something else needs to be bumped.

    This move will certainly kill DSH development. Probably delay any Europa mission as well.

  • honest journalists should say that this idea was proposed 11 years ago by Gaetano Marano http://www.gaetanomarano.it/articles/010arianecev.html

  • Hug Doug

    Yes. The ECLSS reportedly isn’t going to be ready by EM-1, Orion was going to fly without it.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Honestly, you should report that you are Gaetano Marano. It’s a stupid idea, waste of money and no where near ready to fill any gap in schedule. And it doesn’t take a genius to come up with this idea, it takes an idiot.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It’s a very reasonable idea. It’s silly not to send Orion to a space station during it’s shake down period, or at least have the option of going to one. F9H, if it works, is the perfect to candidate to loft this heavy beast to LEO.

  • windbourne

    i doubt that costs will matter.
    If they did, then SLS and Orion NEVER would have been built.

  • windbourne

    that is the problem with NASA.
    They get blamed for wasting money, when it is almost always CONgress and old space companies fleecing NASA.

    I look forward to new private space providing services to NASA to make it possible for them to simply pick, choose, and get done with mission.

  • windbourne

    Gaetano;
    Let ESA or you Gaetano fund it.
    You screamed for years that SpaceX and NASA are junk.
    Well, you and ESA have PLENTY of money. Go ahead and fund L-Mart’s efforts to finish Orion and place it on Ariane.

  • windbourne

    Sorry, Marcel, but multiple issues with your ideas.
    1) Atlas is ready to launch a vehicle. While it does not have everything that NASA wants for QA, it has a great launch record. As long as the engines are used for it are the ones that America had PRIOR to our downturn with Russia, should be elgible for a NASA exception.
    2) SpaceX is far more likely to have dragon ready before CST-100.
    3) ESA can put up their own space station. No big deal. I am hoping that NASA will help us get BA and Axiom going so that we have MULTIPLE DIFFERENT space habitats. Once these are attached to the ISS, decked out and NASA-ESA certed, then they can be spun off to be their own space stations, and attract privates money, namely other nations that want to go to the moon and then mars.
    UAE, Sweden, Brazil, South Korea, India, Japan, etc have all expressed an interest in getting to the moon and mars even if by other companies. Multiple space stations with cheap per seat give them inexpensive training.
    4) it makes far more sense to have multiple space stations to encourage multiple human and cargo launches to get launch prices down quicker.
    SLS will NOT go down much in costs even if launched monthly. It was not built that way.

  • JamesG

    “that is the problem with NASA.
    They get blamed for wasting money, when it is almost always CONgress and old space companies fleecing NASA.”

    It is quite symbiotic I assure you.

    “I look forward to new private space providing services to NASA to make it possible for them to simply pick, choose, and get done with mission.”

    Sadly, thats not how it works.

  • Bill Clawson

    My take is different. If you assume SLS’s purpose is to service deep space missions, then a short flight to the ISS would be inefficient.

  • publiusr

    There I disagree. One of the things that was going to be launched by Ares V was a 5 meter cube cosmic ray water calorimeter.

    I can see SLS also having a role in keeping ISS alive–and expanding
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BA_2100,