Thursday, June 2, 2011

Orion Returns

A NASA artist's 2007 concept of Orion landing during a test at White Sands.

A Florida Today opinion article published May 31 noted the resurrection of the Orion crew capsule as "a welcome development for Kennedy Space Center" but criticizes Congress' intent to build the Space Launch System without a destination.

Senior officials announced NASA plans to use the Orion crew vehicle — designed as part of the canceled Constellation moon program — as its new spacecraft to carry astronauts into deep space.

The idea had support in Congress among members trying to salvage parts of the program, and we backed it too as a smart approach to take the best of what Constellation had produced and apply it to the next generation of spaceflight.

It’s a welcome development for Kennedy Space Center because the spaceport had been picked for final Orion assembly under Constellation, and the decision is expected to save several hundred jobs.

The article then notes that the capsule has nowhere to go:

Congress last year ordered NASA to have a new heavy-lift rocket ready for liftoff from KSC in 2016, using a hybrid mix of shuttle and Constellation components. But the agency’s first attempt flopped when officials said it would be at least two years behind schedule and cost $9 billion more than authorized.

The agency is to present a new proposal to Congress soon, and the Orlando Sentinel has reported one option may be a $10 billion test rocket program to run Orion through its paces with no guarantee it would ever fly again.

The article concludes with support of the Obama administration's proposal to shift money from SLS to accelerate commercial launches to the International Space Station.

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