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Thu, Aug 31, 2006

NASA Selects Lockheed-Martin To Build Orion

Beats Out Boeing-Northrop Grumman Joint Venture

ANN REALTIME REPORTING: 08.31.06 1515 EDT: Lessons from the past are guiding NASA's next step into the future, as the space agency prepares to replace the space shuttle with an Apollo-style vehicle for human explorers -- and moments ago, NASA named Lockheed Martin as the company to build its next-generation spacecraft.

Orion will succeed the space shuttle as NASA's primary vehicle for human space exploration. Orion's first flight with astronauts onboard is planned for no later than 2014 to the International Space Station. Its first flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020.

Lockheed Martin released images of its CEV design, with the most obvious change from earlier renderings being the circular solar panels. The capsule and service module arrangements are also somewhat flatter than in past pictures.

The vehicle will be assembled at New Orleans' Michoud Assembly Facility, that currently assembles external fuel tanks for the space shuttle.

The last NASA contract awarded to Lockheed Martin for a manned spacecraft was in 1996, for the X-33 spaceplace that was intended to replace the space shuttle. After $912 million spent on the program, NASA cancelled the project due to ongoing technical problems.

Orion Background

NASA states that versatility will be Orion's trademark. It is being designed to fly to the moon, but could also be used to service the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.

"Our intent is to keep the destination focusing the design but we are not excluding the possibility of using Orion for other things, such as de-orbiting the Hubble Space Telescope in the 2020s or making a trek to an asteroid," said Jeff Hanley, who manages the Constellation Program from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Orion is the primary payload of the Ares I rocket's 25-ton mission, designed to reach low-Earth orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station or an Earth Departure Stage and lunar lander.

Orion improves on the best features of Project Apollo and the Space Shuttle Program, increasing the likelihood of success. "Going with known technology and known solutions lowers the risk" said Neil Woodward, director of the integration office in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"Although Orion borrows its shape and aerodynamic performance from Apollo, the new capsule's updated computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems represent a marked improvement over legacy systems. We're pushing the technological edge, but only where it makes sense," says Woodward.

Unlike the winged space shuttle orbiter, which is mounted beside its external fuel tank and boosters for liftoff... Orion will be placed on top of its booster to protect it from ice, foam, and other launch system debris during ascent. Placing the spacecraft on top of the launch vehicle also allows the addition of an abort system that can separate capsule and crew from the booster in an emergency.

Among the most obvious improvements is the command module's size. Measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, Orion will have more than 2.5 times the interior volume of the three-seat Apollo capsules that carried astronaut crews to the moon for missions lasting only several hours to several days in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Orion will be crucial for developing a sustained human presence on the moon. It will be able to carry four astronauts to the moon and support missions of up to six months.

"You don't get the chance to build a new human spacecraft every day," said Skip Hatfield, the Orion project manager in Houston. "This is a wonderful opportunity for NASA to learn from the things we've done in the past, take the best of those activities, and blend them together using the latest methods of manufacturing and management to make a system that will enable us to go out and explore beyond low-Earth orbit."

FMI: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/

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