Orion is designed to land in the ocean and is therefor not reusable after landing (only some internal systems will be reused). But can Orion be reused while in space? What would the main issues be?

Could it for example be used as a shuttle between ISS and the captured asteroid in the ARM mission? The crew would land with Soyuz or DragonRider. The propulsion stage of Orion would be refueled and its crew will be supplied as two or more out of the regular ISS crew. Or as a shuttle between ISS and a (BA330?) station orbiting the Moon, from which the crew lands on the Moon with a modified DragonRider?


The big question is if the Service Module can be refueled in orbit. It is based on the ESA's ATV, which can transfer fuel from itself to the Zvezda module of the ISS. So could it flow fuel in reverse? Seems like a smaller step, than being able to transfer fuel at all.

However it seems that the main engine on the ATV uses different fuel (same oxidizer though) than is used by Zvezda.

Quoting from Wikipedia on the ATV:

Up to 4,700 kilograms (10,400 lb) of propellant for the re-boost maneuver and refueling the station. The ATV propellant used for re-boost (monomethylhydrazine fuel and N2O4 oxidizer) is of a different type from the payload refueling propellant (UDMH fuel and N2O4 oxidizer).

Then the question becomes life support consumables. Can they be refilled on orbit?

Uses solar arrays for power, so no fuel cells to worry about refueling. What is the battery life, since the sun is not always available. So that might limit life span of the vehicle.

Another issue is the seals around the fuel supplies. The propellants used are UMDH or MMH are amazing corrosive, and there are life spans for the seals.

  • $\begingroup$ The number of times a liquid rocket can be restarted turns out to be another surprisingly significant engineering issue. I wasn't able to find any information on the restartability of the engines proposed for the Orion Service Module, but presumably like the Apollo SM, some limited number of restarts will be possible without overhaul. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '14 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove Of course, depends on the design of the engine. SpaceX has demoed firing Merlin's quite often. (Acceptance testing each engine, individually. Then as a 9 up core. Then launch. Then for landing tests, restart 3 engines, then for landing restart the center engine). Other engines, designed for many many firings (Shuttle manuervering engines, Dracos, etc) do exist. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Sep 3 '14 at 1:43

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