NASA OIG: Funding Problems Threaten Delays in Orion Program

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NASA’s $16.5 billion deep space Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is suffering from underfunding that threatens increasing program risks and causing delays in a program that won’t fly with astronauts until 2021, the space agency’s watchdog reports.

“Constrained funding for the MPCV forced Program managers to adopt a less-than-optimal incremental development approach in which elements necessary to complete the most immediate tests are given priority while development and testing is delayed on other important but less time sensitive aspects of the Program,” NASA’s Inspector General said in an audit released this week. “While this may be the only realistic and affordable development approach available to NASA given the Program’s current funding profile, such an approach increases risks.”

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Red State Mayors to Obama: Send Federal Funds Fast!

October 24, 2011

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for supporting NASA Administrator Bolden’s recent announcement to move forward on the Space Launch System (SLS). As you know, our communities have been deeply affected by the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program and the cancellation of the Constellation Program. Collectively, the Houston, Texas and Huntsville, Alabama communities have faced the loss of thousands of jobs in the aerospace industry, which has been devastating, particularly at a time when the economy struggles to recover.

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Senate Budget Includes Funding for SLS/Orion Ground Infrastructure

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

In addition to spending $3 billion on the Space Launch System and Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the Senate’s proposed budget directs NASA to also focus on the ground infrastructure required to support these programs using different parts of the space agency’s budget. The budget areas include ground operations, rocket test facilities, and the 21st Century Launch Complex Initiative. Precisely how much money from these budgets will go toward funding infrastructure for SLS/Orion as well as commercial crew ventures depends upon future NASA action.

A summary drawn from the Senate’s budget proposal follows.

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NASA Begins Work on First Space-Bound Orion Spacecraft

NASA PR — NEW ORLEANS — Construction began this week on the first new NASA spacecraft built to take humans to orbit since space shuttle Endeavour left the factory in 1991, and marked a significant milestone in carrying out the ambitious exploration vision President Obama and Congress have laid out for the nation.

Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans started welding together the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. “The Orion team has maintained a steady focus on progress, and we now are beginning to build hardware for spaceflight,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston.

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ATV + MPCV = BEO HSF?

ESA, NASA Discuss Joint Manned Missions
Aviation Week

The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA are discussing plans to build a joint U.S.-European spacecraft based on existing designs that could ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and one day carry humans beyond low Earth orbit.

Speaking at the Paris air show June 20, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the space agencies are hashing out a plan that would combine the service module of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) — a spacecraft built by EADS Astrium that is used to haul cargo to the orbiting complex — with NASA’s Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, a space capsule based on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that Lockheed Martin Space Systems has been developing for NASA over the past six years.

“We are working with NASA to see how we can combine the current capabilities of ATV with what NASA is doing on crew transportation systems to see how we can make a joint vehicle,” Dordain says. The two sides are shooting for a rough outline of the joint concept and its development costs by fall, allowing ample time for ESA member states to evaluate the proposal ahead of their budget-setting ministerial council at the end of 2012.

Read the full story.

Shuttle ‘STORRMs’ Space Station in Successful Rendezvous Test

LOCKHEED MARTIN PR — DENVER  — In an unprecedented on-orbit maneuver, Commander Mark Kelly completed the first ever Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)-like approach to the International Space Station at 3:24 a.m. CDT today as part of the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation (STORRM). The orbital rendezvous verified the successful operation of the MPCV’s next generation docking sensor, which NASA has identified as a critical technology needed for future space exploration missions.

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The Incredibly Shrinking Orion/MPCV Program

Orion Program Shrinking To Save Money, Time
Aviation Week

Lockheed Martin has cut out an entire test article from the Orion crew exploration vehicle that it is recasting in a new role as deep-space Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), combining test objectives for the remaining articles in an effort to keep the vehicle within the tight schedule set by Congress.

By combining the tests that will be conducted with particular test articles, the company plans to send an Orion capsule into orbit on its first test flight in 2013, according to Cleon Lacefield, the company’s program manager. The first capsule produced is now being prepared for ground tests at company facilities here and once those are over, it will be reinstrumented to fly on the first ascent abort test in 2014.

By dropping the test article originally intended for that evaluation — which is intended to validate the ability of the vehicle’s solid-fuel escape tower to pull it off a failing launch vehicle at maximum dynamic pressure during ascent — the company has been able to start work on the test capsule that will fly to space for the first time.

Read the full story.

Editor’s Note: By Congressional decision, this vehicle is getting $1.2 billion in NASA’s budget for this year alone. That should be enough to keep the program moving along. It’s far more than any of the commercial crew projects is receiving, although admittedly the Orion/MPCV is being designed for longer and more rigorous missions.