NASA seeks new voyage for astronauts to Artemis launch pad

Enlarge / NASA began using the 1983 Airstream model for space shuttle missions in 1984.

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NASA has asked industry for ideas to develop an “Artemis Crew Transport Vehicle” that will carry its astronauts from the facilities in suits to the launch pad on launch day.

The space agency, of course, has not launched its own astronauts in a NASA-built vehicle since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. From 1984 to the end of the shuttle era, the agency used an Airstream motorhome. modified, known as the “Astrovan”, to transport crews to the launch pad. This iconic vehicle had a shiny silver exterior, but a rather spartan interior. “The appeal of today’s vehicle is based on its tradition rather than its decoration”, the agency recognized in 2011.

Now, NASA is preparing for a new era of deep space exploration, and plans to launch four astronauts at once inside the Orion spacecraft, atop a Space Launch System rocket. The first human flights in these vehicles could occur in late 2023 or early 2024, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. recently said.

While it has taken literally decades and tens of billions of dollars to develop the spacecraft and rocket, NASA hopes its launch pad can be provided a little faster. On your request, released Friday, NASA says its “Artemis CTV” should be delivered no later than June 2023.

Commercial

NASA is considering three different options for the new vehicle. A supplier can custom build a vehicle, modify a commercially available vehicle, or repair and restore the venerable Astrovan.

As part of your application, NASA has a long list of requirements for your Artemis transport vehicle. Among them:

  • It must be a zero emission vehicle such as battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric or fuel cell electric.
  • It must have a cargo capacity of eight passengers, including four fully equipped astronauts.
  • It should have ample capacity for equipment, including large helmet bags, ice-based cooling units, and more.
  • Have doors wide enough from 24 to 36 inches for the entrance and exit of astronauts in suits.

According to Ars Automotive Editor Jonathan Gitlin, any existing zero-emission vehicle is unlikely to meet these requirements, even with modifications. Ford’s next electric Transit Van may draw closer, Gitlin added.

Enlarge / NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Chris Ferguson, and Sandy Magnus inside the Astrovan in 2011.

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The best option, in fact, may be to renovate the old Airstream. This is because the vehicle will not be called upon for particularly long trips, it is only a few kilometers to and from the launch pad, and this demand would be well within the capabilities of a pair of Tesla powertrains and a battery pack. .

With the Artemis program, NASA returns to the Moon as it did in the 1960s. It uses a capsule design, similar to the Apollo, and a large space shuttle main-engined rocket designed in the 1970s. So, what? why shouldn’t astronaut transport be retro too?

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