Lockheed Martin to build CEV spacecraft
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 31, 2006
America's next manned spacecraft, the wingless successor to the space shuttle that will carry astronauts to and from the international space station and eventually back to the moon, will be built by Lockheed Martin Corp. under contracts valued at up to $8.15 billion, NASA announced today.
Lockheed Martin, leading a team that includes United Space Alliance, Honeywell, Hamilton Sundstrand and Orbital Sciences, won the coveted contract to build the new Orion spacecraft over a rival contractor team led by Northrop Grumman and Boeing. The announcement came two-and-a-half years after President Bush unveiled a new space policy in January 2004 that called for development of a space shuttle replacement.
Under an initial $3.9 billion contract that begins Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 7, 2013, Lockheed Martin will design, build and test two pathfinder spacecraft: a manned Orion crew capsule and an unmanned variant that can be used to carry supplies and unpressurized cargo to the international space station.
A second contract valued at up to $3.5 billion, starting as early as Sept. 8, 2009, and running through Sept. 7, 2019, will cover the cost of buying additional spacecraft depending on NASA's eventual manifest requirements, the ultimate reusability of the spacecraft and other factors. NASA has not yet made an estimate of how many spacecraft might ultimately be built.
Another $750 million is earmarked for sustaining engineering to pay for incremental improvements, advanced engineering and long-term support. That contract would run from Sept. 8, 2009, through Sept. 7, 2019.
Lockheed Martin has never served as prime contractor for a manned spacecraft and at least some knowledgeable space observers predicted the Northrop Grumman/Boeing proposal would win the day. But Horowitz said NASA chose the best team for the job.
"It's been 30 years since anyone has built a human-rated spacecraft to take people from the Earth to low-Earth orbit," he said. "This is a new generation of engineers and technicians that are going to design and develop this spacecraft."
Adrian Laffitte, director of government relations for Lockheed Martin in Florida where the new spacecraft will be assembled for flight, said the contract is "good for NASA and good for the country."
"I think it's really exciting we're going to be part of what's going to carry the next generation of people to the moon and beyond," he said in a telephone interview. "It's an incredible feeling. We're going to be part of history."
After the shuttle is retired in 2010, NASA will begin development of a new heavy lift launch vehicle - the Ares 5 - and under optimistic scenarios, U.S. astronauts could return to the moon as early as 2018 or 2020, depending on funding.
The new spacecraft and mission architecture has its roots in the 2003 Columbia disaster. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, along with recommending fixes to correct the technical problems that led to the disaster, also recommended that NASA "recertify" the space shuttle design if the agency intended to fly the winged orbiters past 2010.
The cost of recertification - a complex effort to inspect and revalidate the shuttle from the ground up - would have been extreme and the Bush administration decided to take a different course.
In January 2004, President Bush unveiled a new space initiative that called for finishing the international space station and retiring the shuttle by 2010. At the same time, NASA was told to begin development of a new family of spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit and, by the end of the next decade, back to the moon.
The long-range goal is manned flights to Mars, but in the near term, the president's initiative is focused almost exclusively on returning to the moon. The goal is long-duration stays on the lunar surface much like astronauts now make six-month tours of duty aboard the space station.
As originally envisioned by Bush, the exploration initiative would cost $12 billion over the first five years. The president promised $1 billion in new money with NASA responsible for coming up with the other $11 billion by diverting funds from existing programs.
Since then, the space agency has cut a wide variety of programs to help pay for the exploration initiative, to fund the agency's continuing recovery from the Columbia accident and ongoing support for downstream shuttle/station operations. The cuts have prompted widespread concern in some quarters about reduced spending for aeronautics, Earth observation and unmanned exploration.
"The science community argues with the apportionment of the funds," Griffin said in a recent interview. "And that's unfortunate, because all of our different portfolios - science, manned spaceflight, aeronautics - all of them have had to be trimmed, all of them have 'given at the office,' if you will. Science hasn't been singled out."
The new spacecraft will have a diameter of 16.5 feet and weigh more than 18,000 pounds at launch. It will be able to carry six astronauts to and from the space station, thus serving as a lifeboat for the outpost, and four astronauts to and from the moon.
While the manned craft and its solar-powered service module can carry a limited amount of cargo, heavy components needed for future flights to the moon or Mars will ride to orbit aboard Ares 5 rockets featuring twin five-segment solid-fuel boosters, a first stage powered by five hydrogen-fueled engines and a second stage built around the same engines that power the Ares 1 second stage.
By putting the crew module atop the Ares 1 rocket instead of on one side like the space shuttle, NASA will eliminate in one stroke any concern about potentially catastrophic impacts from insulation, ice or other debris. Escape rockets will provide a survivable abort capability even in cases of catastrophic launch failures. NASA managers say the goal is a spacecraft with a failure rate of 1-in-2,000 vs 1-in-200 or so for the space shuttle.
"With the Ares 1 launch vehicle and the CEV, we're deliberately building in a substantial amount of flexibility," Griffin told CBS News in a recent interview. "The Ares 1 can be launched in an unmanned mode, it can be launched with the service module and not with the command module and can be used to take up unpressurized cargo in that fashion to the station, including (gyroscopes) and other (large) things.
"The CEV command module will have a fair-size door in it on purpose to allow us to fly, if we choose, with a minimum number of crew and take up a large amount of pressurized cargo. We've got a good deal of volume inside that thing. The service module on the CEV will have a trunk, if you will, (and) we can take up unpressurized cargo in the trunk. So we're designing the system to be modular and adaptable and flexible so it can do much, not all, but much of what the shuttle does today.
"The shuttle has enormous capabilities, not all of which we will be able to replicate in the CEV system. But we're going to capture a good deal of it and we can, we absolutely can use the CEV and the Ares 1 launch vehicle to sustain the space station."
"From my perspective as an engineer, which I admit is biased, the main purpose of the station is to learn how to live and work in space," Griffin said in the CBS interview. "Whenever humans are ready to go to Mars, we're going to need an amount of hardware in space about the size of the space station when it's done. That's how much we need to go to Mars. And hopefully we will have learned so much from how we've assembled station that we'll do a great job on it."
Griffin said the space station "is not relevant to the moon."
"That said, ... I think we can make some use of the station for our development of a lunar base in the longer run," he said. "But really, in my mind the station is far more useful in terms of thinking about Mars."