Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Orion vs. Altair is reporting that the human lunar return will be called "Project Orion." Shame on NASA for reusing a name that was used for the nuclear-pulse propulsion project. Presumably the CEV capsule will also be called "Orion," just like Project Apollo and the Apollo capsule.

Earlier in the year, the NASA Spaceflight website (not an official NASA website) was promoting the name "Altair" for the capsule and "Artemis" for the lander. Perhaps it's for the best that Altair will likely be dropped. In James Michener's epic novel Space, the Altair is the command module for the star-crossed Apollo 18 mission. In light of the book's storyline, it's probably bad karma to call the new capsule "Altair."

[EDIT 1850 MT] Whatever the manned capsule will be called, it's getting lighter and smaller. This is a big step in the right direction. Apollo's service module had enough propellant to perform the lunar orbit insertion and the trans-earth injection maneuvers. The CEV only has to perform the TEI burn, so shouldn't the service module be smaller? It's also worth noting that the bulk and mass of Apollo's fuel cells are being replaced by lightweight solar cells which don't take up volume in the SM.

While the CEV capsule is bigger than the Apollo CM by a linear scale factor of 125%, NASA has claimed that Aluminum-Lithium and other new alloys in the CEV will keep the mass close to that of Apollo. The use of an off-the-shelf engine from Delta II's second stage will keep cost and development time down. While I have a lot of faith in the engine being used in the new CEV design, NASA is wise to use the RCS as a backup to the SM main engine (in case it should develop a propellant or pressurant leak.) I also like the use of oxygen and ethanol for the CM's thrusters, because the fumes from the storable propellants used in Apollo's thrusters almost killed the American crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project during landing.