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.