NASA has announced its intent to move forward with the multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV) as a project based off and almost identical to the Orion capsule. Despite similarities, MPCV will be designed to launch off a different rocket for longer missions.
NASA confirmed that MPCV will be almost identical to Lockheed Martin-built Orion, which will also construct the new craft, and that the same contract conditions will apply to MPCV.
"This vehicle design and concept is most appropriate for the future and our future direction," said NASA associate administrator Douglas Cooke, "so it made the most sense to stick with it. We've made a lot of progress on Orion."
Orion was a capsule designed for a moon landing under US president George Bush as part of the Constellation space program. The Constellation program, including the Ares launch vehicle family, was cancelled by president Barack Obama in 2010 over budgetary concerns; Obama continued development of the Orion despite cancellation of its launch vehicle.
Language contained in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed into law on 11 October, stipulated that NASA develop, a 'multi-purpose crew vehicle' to operate beyond low earth orbit.
One immediate difference, perhaps the only one besides the name, is the mission of the new spacecraft: while Orion was designed primarily to transport astronauts to the moon and return them to earth, a journey of perhaps eight days, MPCV is designed as a 'deep space' craft capable of sustaining a 21-day mission. "The approach on this vehicle is primarily for launch and entry with in-space capabilities for certain periods of time," said Cooke. "For longer term missions that are much longer than 21 days, we would assume that we have in-space habitation in a larger compartment or module just because the crew need more space for a longer period of time."
NASA has not established a design freeze or launch date for MPCV, and noted that while the target mass is 28 tons, that number is subject to fluctuation as the design matures.