Health & Science

Lockheed Martin Provides Sneak Peek At Orion Crew Capsule

Lockheed Martin rolled out its plan for testing and launching the astronaut vehicle that will replace the space shuttle. KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel visited the test facility in Clear Lake. She found that although it looks like the Apollo capsule, Orion is packed with high-tech machines and long-distance ambitions.

The Orion project will be a national effort. The capsule is being welded together in New Orleans, and acoustical tests are taking place in Ohio. And it’s making practice splash-downs in a giant pool in Virginia.

But NASA and its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, will manage the project from Houston. Software testing will take place here, and of course, astronaut training. 

For those used to the cargo-carrying bulk of the space shuttle, Orion will look small.

“It’s designed to be able to go to the moon, Mars and beyond —  asteroids.”

Larry Price is deputy program manager for Lockheed Martin.

“It’s a small vehicle. We make it as small as possible so that it’s as light as possible so that it can be carried to these long distances, accelerated and decelerated  around the heavenly bodies.”

The capsule itself is about 15 feet by 15 feet. That fits four astronauts, barely.

For a longer journey to Mars, it could tow another capsule to provide more living space.

Lockheed Martin has sketched out incremental steps to send Orion farther and farther over the next 20 years.

“Even an asteroid mission is still going to be something like six months going 10 or 20 or 30 times farther than the moon.”

Josh Hopkins is the space exploration architect for Lockheed Martin. His job is to pick asteroids near earth for the capsule to visit.

But first …

“We’d like to do it at least one initial step before that which would be to fly Orion in the vicinity of the moon, would be to send Orion to hover over the far side of the lunar surface. The reasons we picked the far side is no humans or robotic systems have ever landed on the far side, everything we’ve ever done has been on the near side. So we’ve mapped it from orbit but we’ve never explored it up close.”

The progressively longer missions will allow astronauts to practice deep-space travel, with the goal of eventually reaching Mars.

But Hopkins says science will advance with every trip.

For example, if Orion could bring back a rock from an old crater on the far side of the moon, that would tell us more about the early days of the solar system, when earth was being pounded by asteroids, and life was just getting going.

So Lockheed Martin is planning the trips, but of course all of this depends on Congressional approval and money.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.