NASA Shuttle-derived future manned spacecraft CEV may get avionics from Boeing 787

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Lockheed Martin’s proposals for NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) include Boeing 787-derived avionics and the use of thermal protection system (TPS) material from the US space agency’s Stardust sample return capsule, writes Rob Coppinger.

Lockheed is the first bidder to reveal details of its CEV contract submission. Lockheed and rival Northrop Grumman submitted their proposals on 20 April.

Lockheed Martin CEV consortium member Honeywell would supply the 787-derived avionics, which would be radiation hardened and adapted for the thermal, vacuum and vibration environments to which the electronics could be exposed.

The Stardust capsule material is known as Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) and was developed by NASA Ames Research Center. The Stardust mission saw the collection and return, on 15 January, of cometary and interstellar dust particles.

A PICA TPS could be used for International Space Station missions and lunar return, but it would not be reusable. “We have baselined for the TPS the Stardust capsule material [and] for the avionics we wanted to go with something we knew would have had a lot of flight time,” says Lockheed Martin Space Systems CEV business development manager, Patrick McKenzie.

He says Lockheed’s baseline design for the CEV’s backshell is a material similar to the super lightweight ablative used for the Space Shuttle’s external fuel tank. This was also used for the Stardust capsule’s backshell.

McKenzie says that the CEV’s landing system is still being studied and that retro rockets have some advantages over airbags for a land landing because the heat shield does not have to be ejected.