Apollo on Steriods – CEV revealed

by Chris Bergin

People would be forgiven for thinking they’ve stepped back in time after NASA held a press conference to announce they would be using old methods to take up their next major goal – returning to the Moon.

Using what can only be described as an Apollo on top of a Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) – NASA’s long awaited press conference failed to note the full plan for NASA’s return to the Moon – which rather appeared to be a way out of the Shuttle program than a resolute effort for a manned base on the Moon.

What NASA is planning to use the $104 billion – spread over 13 years – on the effort to send four astronauts to the Moon is for a six man Apollo style vehicle on top of a SRB.

From 2012, that will serve as the US’ manned vehicle to travel and service the International Space Station (ISS), before – and some years later – the SDLV, or Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle, will be ready to launch a transit stage service module and propulsion system that will take man back to the Moon.

“Think of it as Apollo on steroids,” Griffin said.

No real plans were made public on the long-awaited news that this will be part of an effort to set up a Moon base – with only hints being forthcoming about it coming many year past NASA’s 2018 ‘sortie’ mission to the Moon, with many more sorties on the schedule before NASA thinks about a base on the outpost.

The SDLV uses current STS (Space Transportation System) elements, with two five segment SRBs helping launch the vehicle – half extended External Tank (ET) and half payload – which has five SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines) aiding assent. Another SSME will be on the service module, with the CEV running off an engine that uses Liquid Oxygen and Methane as its propellant.

Although Griffin noted their future plans do appear like NASA’s Moon missions of the late 1960s, early 1970s, that wasn’t the intention when designers and engineers met to work on the plan to head out of Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“It’s a significant advancement over Apollo. Much of it looks the same, but that’s because the physics of atmospheric entry haven’t changed recently,” he added. “We didn’t set out with the intention for it to look like Apollo.”

One positive to come out of the announcement was the increase in the safety ratio that has haunted NASA since the loss of two Shuttles (Challenger and Columbia) – with the STS program currently under the 1 in 220 mission loss of vehicle (LOV) estimate. The new ship will have 10 times the safety ratio – rising to 1 in 2000 LOV.

While Griffin noted the same vehicles will be the plan for the next stage – a mission to Mars – he had no timelines for that effort, with the announcement proving to be more of an anti-climax, based mainly around the new vehicle that will take astronauts to the ISS and on short (Apollo type) mission to the Moon before 2020.

Live update and image thread:

Full conference audio and animations:

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