MPCV/Orion crew module deathtrap

NASA’s Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program (SLS/MPCV) will fail because…mission costs are too high, the Orion/MPCV crew module has an unsolvable water recovery issue, and there is no commercial application.

The following SLS/MPCV “operation” cost estimates were presented to the Congressional Budget Office after it failed to make the Congress aware of the prohibitive cost to operate expendable heavy lift vehicles.

·         The NASA human exploration budget will be flat lined at $2.8b for the foreseeable future. One report indicates a development cost of $38b and another reports that the first development version launch of the SLS could not take place until December 2017 and the 130mt production versions (crew and cargo) are not expected to unveiled until August 2032. This SLS development program scenario based on 13 flights over a 21 year period would have extreme difficulty maintaining the manufacturing labor force for such a low flight rate. However, it is the introduction of the cargo vehicle which forecast that it will require two launches of these mammoth vehicles to accomplish one mission. The SLS is the same heavy lift launcher concept used in the Constellation program which was cancelled because: “The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.” Such is the case today.

·        NASA has failed to reduce the mission operation cost of the SLS/MPCV. The following $4.2b estimate of annual operations cost for the SLS indicated it will cost more to manufacture the expendable vehicles, plan the mission, and conduct flight operation than NASA has budgeted for human exploration. NASA is assuming that future budgets will be increased to cover mission operations. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN!

 “It’s the Launch Cost…Stupid”… paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s presidential economy election theme. NASA must reduce its launch cost and the commercial space shuttle is the only option! The SLS/MPCV shuttle replacement plan is unaffordable, unsafe, and like the Constellation program suffers from incompetent NASA management.

Crew Modules are Death Traps

NASA Management has chosen not to disclose that crew modules have unsolvable safety issues that are inherent to all crew modules with parachute water landings and crew recovery. There is historical evidence that substantiates crew modules have been no safer than the space shuttle. In fact it is by chance that the crew module safety record is not much worst. NASA management has chosen to disregard the perilous “entry” phase of flight where two Soyuz flight crews were killed when their crew module failed during retry and the recent near fatal mishaps…all related to manufacturing errors.  Every flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) or any of the commercial crew modules will be a “test flight.”

Orion Crew Module Crash Site

Remember one of reasons the space shuttle was decommissioned was to improve crew safety and that is not the case with crew modules! Ironically only the CSS would have crew escape pods that would protect the crew during every phase of flight. This is another NASA management blunder which again will have fatal consequences if implemented!

Recently published statements attributed to NASA state that the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Is: “designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the Space Shuttle.” As a retired NASA engineer with extensive experience in the operation of crew modules, I challenged the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance about the authenticity of this statement.  Their reply (see below) was the Orion failed to meet the safety requirements for entry during their Constellation Program evaluations and that they have failed to establish a Level 1 set of requirement for the commercial crew modules and Orion MPCV. It is my opinion that the Commercial crew modules and Orion MPCV are potential deathtraps and NASA has misled Congress about the safety of these vehicles.

While the crew escape tower on the MPCV may provide significant improvement over a Space Shuttle without crew escape pods, it does not negate the many factors that have made crew modules a death trap during the re-entry phase of flight. As example, historically the Russian Soyuz crew module’s safety record is not significantly better than that the Space Shuttle. While the Soyuz crew module has experienced a failure of the escape tower, it has been the re-entry phase of flight that has proven to be the fatal environment for flight crews. Potential fatal crew module failures are:  

  •         Every crew module flight is a test flight! Manufacturing errors have occurred.  
  •         Crew modules have very limited cross range capability which could require a reentry into unacceptable weather conditions.
  •         Crew module’s notorious reentry errors result in an expanses landing zone that could prevent rapid access to the crew in dire circumstances.
  •         Parachutes are known to fail. This is another unacceptable single point failure.

There are too many potential failures with fatal consequences for a crew module to be considered for 21st century human space transportation. The Russian Soyuz crew module is still in service only because their government cannot afford to develop a safer reusable lifting body winged runway landing crewed spacecraft.

Email reply: Excerpts from NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance:

“At PDR, the Cx (Orion) design PRA estimate was better than the requirement for ascent and not there yet for entry. We don’t have a set of level 1 requirements yet for the next NASA developed human system, but we do plan to use the Cx numbers above as part of our human rating requirements set for commercial crew to ISS.  I agree this will be a challenge for any capsule for all the reasons you give if not more.”

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