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NASA's human space flight program plans to within 5 years or so have access to Orion and a launcher for it. Without a Lunar or Martian lander, the targets for Orion missions are limited.

But given that an ISS derived interplanetary habitation module (instead of a lunar lander) is developed next to take care of the 6-8½ month travel time to Mars capture orbit, could the Orion then be used to transport astronauts to the surface of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos? According to the planned ARM mission, Orion will approach a small asteroid and do an EVA at it. Is it suitable to approach the surface of a Martian moon with the Orion spacecraft? Could it even soft land on its service module in that low surface gravity (0.0006g and 0.0003g)? Orion is designed to manage one EVA and then restore the atmosphere once. But with a mothership habitation module nearby, they might maybe do two EVA's and return to it suited up in an Orion empty of air.

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Orion itself is meant to be the launch and reentry vehicle for crew on the mission. For pretty much everything else it is not that useful. It has a slightly longer than short term duration life support system. 21 days is long enough for lunar missions, but not long enough for much else. Not enough room for much longer anyway.

The expectation is some kind of hab module for transit. Some kind of lander for landing. Some kind of ascent vehicle for getting back off the surface.

Orion itself has next to no useful provisions beyond that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but since they consider using Orion to approach a small captured asteroid and perform an EVA at it, I was wondering about the feasibility of doing the same at a Martian moon. And 21 days life support for 4 astronaut is more capability than an Earth launch/landing vehicle $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Dec 15 '14 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff More than an Earth launch/landing vehicle, but not enough for very much else. Sort of an odd, less that optimal design, it would seem. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Dec 15 '14 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, so I try to predict how it will be used. As a shuttle to a lunar orbital station? Exploration vehicle for a Mars mission without landing on Mars? Even if ARM is realized, it can't be the only target for Orion. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Dec 15 '14 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the asteroid mission envisions a service module in addition to Orion. $\endgroup$ – Erik Dec 15 '14 at 20:26

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