NASA unveils new four-person spacecraft for deep space

Other News Materials 25 May 2011 01:58 (UTC +04:00)

The US space agency revealed plans Tuesday for a new spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to distant destinations and eventually to Mars, dpa reported.

The system known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is based largely on the spacecraft called Orion that was part of scrapped plans developed during president George W Bush's administration to return astronauts to the moon.

Up to four astronauts will be able to live for 21 days aboard the cone-shaped craft, which is designed to be 10-times safer than the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet.

President Barack Obama chose to scrap Bush's Constellation programme, which centred on using the Orion to travel to the moon. That programme was behind schedule and over budget, and officials argued it would never achieve its goals with current funding levels.

NASA is now planning to use commercial vendors to ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS). It will use its own resources to develop the new spacecraft to travel into deep space, first visiting a distant asteroid before travelling to Mars.

By using the basis of the Orion spacecraft which was already in development, NASA will be able to most effectively use its resources in an era of tight budget restrictions, said Douglas Cooke, head of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

"It made the most sense to stick with it," Cooke said, noting many of the design requirements were the same. "We've made a lot of progress with Orion."

Cooke did not provide an estimated cost for the vehicle, but told reporters 5 billion dollars had already been spent on the Orion craft.

Lockheed Martin Corp, which had already won a contract under the Constellation programme, will develop the new spacecraft.

"We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

"As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track," he said.

In detailing his vision for space last year, Obama said he hoped the US could send astronauts into deep space, reaching an asteroid or other distant object, by 2025. Cooke did not provide a more detailed timeline.

The ageing shuttle fleet is to be retired this summer, after a final flight by the Atlantis in July, leaving US astronauts reliant on Russian Soyuz craft to reach the International Space Statation until commercial craft can be developed.