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CEV Design Project

Updated on February 19, 2011

Ship Design

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by Daniel J. Durand, for the Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars

CEV Design Project

With the space shuttle nearing the end of its lifespan, NASA is in dire need of a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) to continue America’s endeavors in space. In response, our group has been tasked with designing a suitable replacement. Our answer; Freelance.

Freelance is the ideal craft for any mission, able to remain in space for long durations without returning to base for resupply. It would use a single, massive nuclear thermal engine for propulsion, capable of moving at roughly 22 kilometers per second, halving the trip to Mars. This powerful of an engine would also allow the craft to carry 4-6 times as much weight as traditional chemical rockets, making additional on-board facilities possible.

These facilities would be built into eight separable modules, arranged into an octagonal form. Each module could be specialized for a specific purpose, such as a laboratory module, or an additional power plant. For extended missions, modules designed as greenhouses could be attached, providing some renewable sustenance to the crew. The modules would attach to a central octagon, where crew facilities (lavatory, bridge, galley, etc.) would be located. In the event of an emergency, the modules could be sealed off from the rest of the vessel, or, should structural integrity be compromised, removed remotely from the crew section, reducing weight, power and life support consumption, and making the craft more maneuverable.

Life support functions would be delegated to separate modules on opposite ends of the vessel, with a smaller, backup system in the crew section should the modules be damaged or jettisoned. Freelance’s design plays an important role in the arrangement of the life support modules; should the vessel be damaged, say by impact to the starboard side, by placing the support modules at strategic locations on the craft only a portion of the vital systems could be disabled at one time. Some of the life support modules could still function, meaning that while the crew may be without water recycling, they still have power, thus reducing the strain that would be allocated to the backup system.

After life support, communications is the most vital system on any space-faring vessel. Primary communications would be carried out by a large, retractable dish on the top of Freelance, allowing for email-like communications between the crew and Earth, or real-time exchange on missions that are closer to home (Earth orbit, for example). In the event of a system failure, a separate backup antenna (not shown in graphic) could be extended in an attempt to notify HQ of the problem.

Navigations would be carried out by computer software and guidance satellites. Computers would calculate the ship’s position based on three dimensions in space, using data from satellites and pre-plotted coordinates. Courses could then be plotted with this data either manually or through the software. Should a malfunction occur, the crew must be able to navigate observationally using the positions of celestial objects relative to the craft, at least until the system can be repaired.

Upon completion of a journey, Freelance would land vertically, slowing on reentry into the atmosphere using its’ main engine while guiding itself into position with stabilizing thrusters. Upon landing, four deployable “feet” would be extended hydraulically. The feet would be equipped with powerful shock absorbers, for the purposes of ensuring a smooth landing with so much weight involved and also to offer some degree of safety in the event of a “hard” landing. All of the landing procedures could be operated via computer, with specific data for each landing (wind factors, speed, time of dissent, etc.) entered manually by the navigations officer and pilot. The craft would be designed to operate manually in the event of a computer crash.

An additional feature would be a very thick level of shielding surrounding the craft. This would most likely be lead, which would add a significant amount of weight to the craft. Alternatively, depleted uranium could be used, which would require less material but also present the threat of radiation sickness to the crew should the material become exposed or leak into the crew compartments. The best option would be some alternative form of shielding, such as electrostatic shields, which are still in the earlier stages of research, but could essentially solve both problems with weight and adequate protection.

In conclusion, Freelance is the ideal craft for future manned missions into space. While there are some problems that must be addressed, if such a vessel as Freelance could be built and made operational, it would be tough, capable, and perfectly suited for almost any type of mission both at home and in deep space. Freelance would become the workhorse of the human space programs, with a foreseeable service life comparable with, say, the AK-47. Culturally, the impact could be similar to the advent of the automobile, or the first airplanes. Whether Freelance becomes a reality is debatable, at best, but the concept is a undoubtedly a necessity for increasing human influence in the solar system.

References and Additional Information

This link pertains to the information regarding Freelance’s engine.

This link leads to further information regarding experimental electrostatic shielding.


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