Thursday, October 08, 2015

NASA Considering Habitat Module in Orbit Around Moon With FIrst Space Launch System Mission

U.S. space exploration planners say the next big piece of human hardware needed on the road to Mars is a modular habitat that could be stationed near the Moon and visited by early manned Orion capsule missions, building on ground- and space station-testing of “Mars-ready” habitation systems already in development

In a new report, NASA says the first flight of a habitation module could come as early as the first manned flight of the Orion capsule. The agency recently committed to a 2023 launch date for that mission, saying it didn’t have sufficient confidence to endorse the 2021 date still targeted by the Orion development program.

“Co-manifested payloads, potentially launched as early as Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), could include pressurized modules that extend the deep-space capabilities of the Orion spacecraft and help develop a deep-space habitation capability,” the agency states in “NASA’s Journey to Mars; Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration,” a report the agency drafted to answer congressional demands for more detail on its human-exploration plans.

Top agency managers already are discussing an early flight test of a habitation module that could be evolved and expanded to support a crew on its way to Mars. The module would be launched on the same heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) under development for eventual use in Mars exploration.

“We want to take it on a shakedown cruise and put it around the Moon,” Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told a Capitol Hill audience Oct. 7 that included Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “And then we’ll have the systems in it that are designed for the longer-term duration, not designed for just being at the Moon, but to give us a chance to test those. We’ll do that on the backbone of the Space Launch System and Orion.”

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