In the historic speech at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC on 14 January, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush stated that America’s first goal in space exploration is to return the Space Shuttle to flight safely.
“Our second goal,” Bush went on, “is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle(CEV) will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module.”
The CEVs will be built in slightly different versions, like different models of the same automobile. Some of the craft will have the capability of docking with the International Space Station, now under orbital assembly. Other versions will feature hardware allowing them to serve as bases of operations on the moon’s surface. Still other variants will be capable of leaving the Earth-moon system behind and head out to the asteroids or Mars, or possibly more distant destinations.
Although all such machines may exhibit the same shape, under their heat shield skins they could prove to be very different craft — some even bigger, some smaller.
The program to build the “Crew Exploration Vehicle” and related exploration systems is now called “Project Constellation”. Named after the patterns that stars form in the night sky, Project Constellation will be made up of Earth-to-orbit, in-space and surface transportation systems, surface and space-based infrastructures, power generation, communications systems, maintenance and science instrumentation, and robotic investigators and assistants. NASA will utilize a spiral development model to create variants of the CEV which can travel to earth orbit, to lunar orbit, to help conduct lunar landings, to build extended duration habitats, and to destinations beyond, such as Mars, near-earth asteroids, and the outer planets.
Created originally to advanced new software designs, spiral development process incorporates new technologies or capabilities into a system more quickly than other management methods, then brings the whole system to operational readiness while still refining its capabilities. Engineers say it is a way to update system design even as development continues.
NASA officials will employ spiral development — in a phase called Spiral 1 — to create the first generation of crew exploration vehicles, capable of carrying astronauts only into Earth orbit. According to Capt. Michael Hecker, the agency’s deputy administrator for development programs in the Office of Exploration, the objective is to send the first crewed CEVs into space no later than 2014, preceded by unpiloted flight tests in 2011 and the first test flight of a stripped-down prototype as early as 2008.
At the end of development cycles, the resulting design would fold into Spiral 2, a moon-bound CEV fully capable of supporting astronauts on a trip from Earth orbit to the moon and down to live on its surface. Another Spiral, not yet fixed on the development calendar, would involve building a CEV capable of interplanetary flights to Mars and beyond.
(The same article appears in my other blog.
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