Problems Surface For Constellation Program

by Nancy Atkinson on July 17, 2008

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NASA\'s new Ares V & Ares I Rockets.  Credit:  NASA

NASA's new Ares V & Ares I Rockets. Credit: NASA


On the heels of news about NASA engineers who feel the Constellation program is using the wrong kind of rockets comes word that efforts to build the spacecraft which will replace the shuttle and return astronauts to the moon is running behind and over-budget. NASA Watch published a leaked internal NASA document showing the Constellation Program has encountered financial and technical problems, and the Associated Press quoted Doug Cooke, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration as saying the first test flights for Orion may be delayed. However, the delay thus far is only of NASA’s internal goal of having the spacecraft ready by 2013. Cooke said they are still on target for NASA’s public commitment of first test flights by 2015, and returning to the moon by 2020. But unless the space agency can receive more funding, further delays may be inevitable.

The 117-page report shows an $80 million cost overrun this year for just one motor and a dozen different technical problems that the space agency put in the top risk zone, meaning the problems are considered severe. The report put the program’s financial performance in that category, as well.

Some experts say it’s too early to be worried, others say NASA’s design is flawed or the space agency is just repeating mistakes made in developing the space shuttle. But almost everyone agrees that NASA isn’t getting enough funding to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Additional funding from Congress is pending, but in an election year, don’t count on it.

News Sources: NASA Watch, Newsweek/AP

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Maxwell July 17, 2008 at 8:11 PM

I wonder why there are so many doubts coming out of nowhere.
Theres nothing terribly new about this project. They simply juggled parts into a more sustainable package. The boosters are from the shuttle, the engines are from past liquid fueled systems, the electronics are all tried and true, even the mission profile is not that unusual for NASA.

I don’t disagree that the entire program could use more money to help speed development along. But at the same time I don’t doubt that the ship is a sound platform that will succeed given half a chance to do so.

JMO July 17, 2008 at 11:33 PM

Maxwell, check the facts man!

Everything in Constelation Program is new! What started as a “use what you got” is now “reinvent the wheel” OP.

Boosters are NOT from shuttle any more. Ares solids are longer and thicker which means those are NEW motors requiring new tooling, new testing, you name it… Situation is similar with liquid engines. Ares I gets all new liquid fuel upperstage. What’s left from original proposal’s “reuse shuttle systems” is similar paint job and nothing else. When Ares rockets actually fly current shuttle operations probably look cheap as dirt (compared to Ares).

- J -

Carlos July 18, 2008 at 3:29 AM

The question is… with all that money are you making new technologies that should apply t make a “revolution” in Space Exploration, OR, are you spending all the money in a “Sisifo Mountain”… getting up the same rock up and down?

It’s a pity, but this project is another Space Shuttle, the money is spending politicaly and we have just start to see the cost overruns… and what have to come!!!

Andy July 18, 2008 at 3:48 AM

As long as NASA is getting the money they said they needed, what’s their problem? If these difficulties were the result of the project being underfunded or having its budget cut, I could see them getting an increase. But to give them more bucks just to keep the project on schedule is to reward poor planning and management. The schedule is not the Holy Grail of this project; getting men safely to and back from the moon is.

Jack July 18, 2008 at 3:14 PM

I agree with Maxwell. There is nothing new in the Constellation program. Sure, the boosters are slightly wider, longer and possible improvements may have been made, BUT it is far from a new idea. (The Mercury and Apollo programs HAD new ideas.) Getting back to the moon is only a 3-4 year project NOT a 10-12 year project. That is the REAL problem with NASA. Everyone always says it is the money that slows development. However, it is NOT the money, it is the will to succeed. NASA has been leading the race in space travel and technology for 50 years. However, this is a race that will NEVER end. The country leading this race will always be the number one superpower of the world. We can NOT fall behind in this race, it is too important. NASA needs to go back to school and study the success of the 1960′s. With so many advancements in technology and materials, it is embarrassing that NASA can not put a man on the moon in a shorter time frame than we did 39 years ago. From Kennedy’s speech on May 25, 1961 until we had a man on the moon on July 20, 1969 was only a little over 8 years. Come on, NASA. I challenge you to beat this record by 4 years. My first step would be to get rid of anyone involved that does not have a passion for space and a strong and competittve desire to succeed. Also, get rid of all the engineers who don’t have common sense. There might not be many people left, but this is the only way we can move forward.

RUF July 18, 2008 at 6:41 PM

The liquid fuel engines on the Ares are the same ones on the Delta (or Titan)-, I can’t remember which.)

Ares I will never fly. Better off to put the Orion atop a Delta III Heavy.

Chuck Lam July 19, 2008 at 9:45 AM

To: Jack, You appear to be right on target. In addition to your comments, I think NASA needs totally new leadership and a new crop of young enthusiastic engineers to maintain America’s superpower status. Hopefuly the next administration will overhaul NASA.

Maxwell July 19, 2008 at 9:26 AM

JMO:
The unlisted figure with the shuttles is the continued cost of operation, to include essential upgrades and maintenance on the launch pads.
30 years is old for any aircraft. If your going to do a maintenance rebuild the shuttle systems then we would incur the same expenses as if we just made new ones.

Yes there are specific changes to components used in Constellation, but the basic concepts and technologies are the same. Built in large enough numbers it will probably work out with soyuz like efficiency.
Plus theres the bonus of getting a more capable system without the altitude and endurance limits of our shuttles.

Maxwell July 19, 2008 at 9:31 AM

Not to blather on too much at length but I just want to add:
What we really need is an entirely new system of spacecraft that have a mix of both shuttle and capsule capabilities.
Right about now a venture star, x-37, or scramjet program would be ideal… but congress does not want the cost nor the increased downtime of such a system.

If constellation gets us back into deep space and looking at it as a frontier for expansion instead of just an expensive hobby, it will work good enough.

JMO July 19, 2008 at 12:33 PM

Maxwell:
Soyuz rocket variants have flown more than 1700 times. Production peaked around 60 rockets in the early eighties. Ares rockets are expected to fly around six times on a good year (2025 maybe?).

I agree with NASA and you in that it’s about time to ditch the old orbiters and move on…
It’s just sad to see the lack of fiscal sensibility in the US space administration. Constellation costs have escalated terribly and are now dangering just about everything else in NASA’s budget. NASA plans to launch around six Constellation flights per year in 2020′s which will include two missions to ISS (Ares I), two crewed lunar (Ares I) and two lunar Cargo (Ares V). Estimated costs for boosters only are $400m per Ares I and $1400m per Ares V (payload costs not included). It’s pretty clear that even if Ares V ever gets to fly, it’s gonna be a very rare event indeed.

I have no doubt that given enough money and time Ares rockets can be build. Development costs are currently estimated to be around $30bn (NASA’s own estimate). I’m just saying: Maybe, just maybe there is a better way somewhere…. Perhaps a way that leaves a couple of bucks to buy actual missions too!

NASA may be in need of many things but courage to face the music is what i would give them if i could. When development budget of something nonvital (there ARE sensible alternatives!) bloats to fivefold or more from promised it’s time to say: Ok, this effort failed. What else do we have…

RUF: Agreed on EELV. Even Titan IV HV makes more sense than Ares. Titan IV’s RS-68 motor variant may go into Ares V if it ever gets build (doubtful IMO). Ares I will have a new J-2X LOX/LH2 motor based on old saturn designs.

More rocket science: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php

- JMO -

Dark Gnat July 21, 2008 at 5:58 AM

DIRECT 2.0 is looking better every day.

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