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Vega Backers Find Orion Service Module Work Too Boring

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 17, 2012
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Having spent 9 years and $930 million developing a new solid-fuel rocket to launch small satellites into Earth orbit, France and Italy have decided that working on a new spacecraft that will send humans to explore the moon, Mars and various asteroids is both beneath them and simply too boring.

Two of Europe’s biggest International Space Station contributors have rejected a NASA proposal that would see the European Space Agency (ESA) pay its share of ISS operating costs by building a propulsion module for NASA’s Orion crew transport capsule, saying the proposal is technologically lackluster and unlikely to generate public enthusiasm.


This will, presumably, force NASA to dig even deeper into its pockets to complete work on the mega-expensive Orion, which is not to set to fly with astronauts for another 9 years. Possibly with a negative impact on funding for commercial crew.

The negative view of the service module work is interesting in light of what the two nations have been spending development money on. Italy and France collectively finance about 73 percent of Europe’s new Vega rocket, which launches small payloads into LEO. Total Euopean commitment to Vega, including five qualifying flights, will total $1.45 billion.

And that’s before they replace the fourth stage. Germany was so thrilled the success of Vega’s inaugural launch this week that it wants in on this exciting project. It has proposed building a replacement for the Ukrainian-built upper stage. The cost of that is unknown at present.

Well, whatever floats your boat.

To be fair, Italy and France are looking at some interesting technology development:

Specifically, d’Escatha says France would like to develop a vehicle capable of grappling with and collecting orbital debris that could also have sample-return applications for exploration missions.

The Swiss are looking at doing exactly that with small satellites. It’s an interesting project, technologically challenging, and much needed. So, I could see how the French would be doing something similar and find that interesting.

But still, Orion is going to be going beyond Earth orbit with people, and Italy and France could certainly barter participation of their own astronauts in those missions. And those would be both technologically challenging and of generate much public enthusiasm.

6 responses to “Vega Backers Find Orion Service Module Work Too Boring”

  1. Robert Gishubl says:

    That is because they recognise Orion is a waste of time and will not be used for anything beyond a few test flights if that. Orion is too costly and will not be ready befor comercial options are available that are cheaper and offer similar or better performance.

  2. Nickolai_the_Russian_Guy says:

    Yea, I see it hard to justify funding for Orion once a crew carrying Dragon is operating for much less cost. I mean, you can always make the justified argument against monopolies, but spending billions on an government option is not much of a palatable alternative.

  3. JohnHunt says:

    The US backs out of ExoMars, a primarily European program. Several days later Europeans back out of Orion, a primarily American program. Coincidence?

  4. JohnHunt says:

    Is Dragon really an adequate substitute for the Orion capsule? Are their life support systems similar. Dragon to the ISS in a day needs only oxygen tanks. Orion on a 6-month journey to an asteroid needs a really scaled down version of the ISS’s regenerative life support system. Am I correct or no?

  5. pathfinder_01 says:

    Orion will not be supporting a crew for 6 months at best only 21 days. Dragon’s life support system endurance has not been released but you will need a bit more than Oxygen tanks to get to the ISS.

    Orion does have a regenerative c02 scrubber system developed by paragon(same company doing ccdev life support and helping Space X with dragon.).

    For a asto mission you are going to need a hab module to support a crew that long a capsule of any type just wont do.

  6. Paul451 says:

    IMO, living in the capsule is the wrong mission profile for a six month asteroid flight (or anything longer than a lunar flight).

    Dragon (or any of the CCDec/CCiCap players) can dock and remain on standby for the six month mission. So you live in a hab module, maybe in an inflatable Bigelow type. (Maybe sleep in a smaller shielded module.)

    In fact, I’d go further and spend the extra fuel to start and end at the ISS (for an asteroid flight, inclination change isn’t a big cost, it’s the circularisation that’s costly). That way you know you’re using a new capsule that’s never been outside Earth-orbit.

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