Space: On the Shoulder of Orion

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April 29, 2007: The three remaining U.S. Space Shuttles will be retired in three years, leaving it to Russia to provide transportation to and from the International Space Station. For that work, Russia uses manned (up to three people) Soyuz and unmanned Progress space capsules. The Progress is actually a variant of the Soyuz, and both weigh about seven tons. These two space vehicles are used one time only, and were designed in the 1960s. The Progress can deliver 2.7 tons of cargo (the Space Shuttle capacity was about 15 tons). The U.S. is developing a reusable capsule, the 25 ton Orion, that can carry up to six personnel, or up to 3.5 tons of cargo (six tons in s special cargo version). The Orion can land, via parachute and airbags, anywhere, and be refurbished for up to ten trips. However, the Orion won't be ready for use until 2015.

Currently, Russia builds two Soyuz and four Progress capsules a year. For the 4-5 year period when there is no Shuttle or Orion, Russia will build four Soyuz and seven Progress capsules a year. Russia and the European Union have discussed developing new reusable craft, but only the U.S. is actually moving forward with that idea. The Orion is based on the American Apollo space capsule of the 1960s, which was a contemporary of the Soyuz.

 


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