Report: Constellation Program Has Serious Issues

NASA is facing some serious problems, and whether these problems are perception or truth remains to be seen. A government report presented at a congressional hearing on April 3 says NASA’s Constellation Program faces severe problems and the new spacecraft might never work as intended. The Government Accountability Office, (they call themselves the “the investigative arm of Congress”) issued the report which lists several critical issues, especially with the Ares I rocket, which is prone to violent shaking on liftoff and might not have enough power to reach orbit. NASA has requested an additional $2 billion over the next two years to boost development of the new spacecraft, but the GAO doubts whether that will be enough to overcome the design flaws and for the space agency to achieve timely success with the program.

The GAO identified several areas that could delay Constellation:
• Both vehicles have a history of weight issues;
• Excessive vibration during launch threatens system design;
• Uncertainty about how flight characteristics will be impacted by a fifth segment added to the Ares I launch vehicle;
• Ares I upper stage essentially requires development of a new engine;
• No industry capability currently exists for producing the kind of heat shields that the Orion will need for protecting the crew exploration vehicle when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere; and
• Existing test facilities are insufficient for testing Ares I’s new engine, for replicating the engine’s vibration and acoustic environment, and for testing the thermal protection system for the Orion vehicle.

In effect, the report says, NASA has a design for the Constellation project — but as yet there is no assurance that all the components will work as planned.

NASA has claimed that Constellation is on schedule, and the problems are manageable. “I’ve rarely seen more of a mountain made out of less of a molehill,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told the Space Transportation Association in Washington, D.C., last month.

NASA is expected to announce they have developed a strategy for dealing with Ares’ shaking problem. The Orlando Sentinel quoted special assistant to the administrator Chris Shank: “We have a mitigation strategy.”

The Sentinel also quoted a former NASA official who asked not to be named as saying the Ares rocket faces the perception problems that have dogged NASA throughout its history. Politicians and the public are skeptical the agency can complete its program on time and on budget. Without political and public support, NASA could face troubling times.

Here’s NASA’s video about the Constellation Program:

Original News Sources: Orlando Sentinel and the GAO Report

21 Replies to “Report: Constellation Program Has Serious Issues”

  1. It’s early yet. This is nothing like the fuel tank breaking open when filled, like on the VenturaStar. I hope.

  2. “No industry capability currently exists for producing the kind of heat shields that the Orion will need for protecting the crew exploration vehicle when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere”

  3. Jebus Christ, this is so pathetic…All that money & research spent on apollo could have been put to use again nowadays since Orion is just a re-itiration of this 40 years old program…What a way to waste time and money… What happened to all the research docs & data of the Apollo program? Why do they have to start from scratch again? Why do they have to build a new rocket? I just don’t get it…
    Too bad we didnt get the Energia 2 launch system back in the 90’s, it would have been perfect for Orion, saving R&D costs for Nasa to focus on the manned modules…Anyway why don’t they re-use Saturn V’s? Quite reliable weren’t they?

  4. Carl, S0I… I’m sorry, but we are not the country we are in that ’70 show… don’t you know? all the technology, all the power, all the money was washed out our hands by the big power… the “globalization” not only empover and devast the 3rd world… is out our doors now and then we’re out the space race… you understand?

  5. Carl, your notion is off base. There is a difference between having a manufacturing base and having an R&D capability to develop a new technology. Who cares where its made, most of the tech advancements are still made in the US and Western Europe. Its the most design labs are situated here and the world’s top talent migrates here.

    The real problem with this mission is that nobody believes in it. What’s the Return on Investment from going to the moon with updated 1960s technology?

  6. Unfortunately, even if ARES met all design cireteria, the concept was flawed from the beginning. ARES cannot fully support the International Space Station (ISS), which may lead to its early abandonment.

    For example, as designed, ARES will be unable to supply large spare parts to the ISS. It will also be a very expensive way to provide water. Water s now a by-product of Shuttle fuel cells, but in the future will require separate cargo flights.

    There are plans to stockpile spares and develop waste water recycling on-board the ISS. However, as far as spare parts are concerned, when they are used up or an unanticipated failure occurs, the useful life of the ISS may be over.

    Current plans call for the Shuttle program to end long before ARES is ready to fly. Remember that after Apollo ended in 1972, the Shuttle was expected to fly within four years. It actually took nine years, until 1981. The same could happen with ARES.

  7. A lot of the information about how the Saturn V was built was not documented or archived at all. Afterall it was a race to the moon during the cold war. We’re lucky that life size mock-ups or back-up units were constructed and saved to allow forensic studies of items produced back then. In some instances the forensic methods have been critical in duplicating “lost” methods and technologies.

  8. Hey guys dont worry.
    You can ask one of the EADS guys over here to help you with the rockets.

    Remember Apollo.
    The Vanguard rockets still would explode without some fresh ideas from the V2.

    So dont be shy. Ask the Ariane guys
    They can help you.

  9. “Current plans call for the Shuttle program to end long before ARES is ready to fly. Remember that after Apollo ended in 1972, the Shuttle was expected to fly within four years. It actually took nine years, until 1981. The same could happen with ARES.”

    Um… Apollo flew until 1975… Remember the Apollo-Soyuz flight? There was only a 6 year gap between Apollo and Shuttle.

    The unmanned Progress can hold tons of supplies, which currently give the ISS water and food and other things. Supply is not a problem when the shuttle retires.

    How is the Ares I not able to use the ISS to the full? Isn’t the Orion going to be capable of putting six people on board for an ISS flight? In fact, one of the reasons for Ares instead of current infrastructure is that the shuttle rocket is too large to carry Orion to LEO. It’s a waste of resources and money. Ares I will be cheaper per flight.

    The real question is… is the cost of development worth the savings on a per flight basis? When is the Return On Investment for the Ares I? If it’s under ten years, it’s probably worth the development.

  10. In my opinion this whole program is moraly
    obsolete. It still requires government funding
    and will not pay for itself by selling space
    cruise tickets and that makes its viability
    instantly subject to suspect. We have to focus
    on alternatives to rocket propulsion such as
    electromagnetic engines and while NASA
    does now investigate alternative propulsion
    such as warp drive the notion seems to be
    that it is a kind of daydreaming and real
    technology is still rockets

  11. Buzz Aldren said he Ares would not fly some time ago. Sounds like he knows what he is talking about.

  12. It seems to me that our government wastes tons of money on foreign aid, as well as congressional earmarks. We would do well to concentrate on America for a change. Why not keep the space shuttle flying for a few more years ? . Why no build the carbon nanotube elevator to orbit. Also, I think it may be possible to use an electromagetic rail gun to shoot a projectile into orbit. Also, why the heck don’t we use those solid rocket boosters from the shuttle to launch our own cargo vehicle. The Saturn V first stage developed 7.5 million pounds of thrust. Lets cut out the government waste, and use that money for research and developement of the things that are important to America !

  13. Call me a layman (and I admit, I am), but Constellation seems simply too complex for it’s own good. Wasn’t the Shuttle program supposed to be relatively inexpensive at the outset, but wound up costing much more than initially projected? I see similar things happening to the multi-craft Constellation program. What about Direct V2.0 ( as a viable alternative, also using preexisting materials, methods and technology, but simpler, safer and less expensive? Please do educate me if I don’t fully understand the problems of Direct vs. the benefits of Constellation.

  14. The Jupiter vehicle ( concept looks pretty good. It’s ironic is that it took 30 years but it seems that the Shuttle, for all it’s flaws, at last seems kinda reliable. And I realize the Fred Flintstone computers on the thing are simply unacceptable. I dont understand why we need to send up a crew of 10 or 12, and why they cant launch and land in California (or some other state with better weather) vs Florida, where it seems every other mission is delayed at launch or landing.

  15. the space race is long long over why doesn’t the U.S.A seek russian help after all they are more than willing to give a hand,the guys have the seemingly reliable energia heavy booster. NASA if you have the deep pockets but not the brians then thats how the russians come in with the brians. u got to do it for the entire human race not for just the u.s

  16. stargazerdude,

    They don’t launch from California, because 1) the Cape is at a lower latitude and 2) launches take place over the ocean during the critical early phases, so problems don’t lead to raining burning debris down on people’s head.

    The shuttle is old, expensive, has a very poor reliability/safety record, and should have been retired a long time ago.

  17. I don’t belive this report, can’t NASA do anything right? What is stopping them using the USAF Delta V? Looks like a bloody good vehiclelsat there waiting to be used… I guess its another symbol of US wastfulness….
    I feel sorry for US Citizens when the US Government wastes so much time and money… …there money…

  18. Thanks for the info about the apollo blueprints, though i don’t really understand why&how they would be “lost”, a bit like the apollo footage disappearing 2 years ago…It’s just odd i think….

    Maybe, and maybe i’m being overly paranoid, but just maybe they actually want the program being delayed and are making it look like it’s “not their fault, it’s the techs”…I had a look at the Direct project and it does seem that if deadlines were really the number one priority they would have chosen a similar approach.

    Yet all in all Orion is a bit pathetic, apollo 1.1 it seems, it’s odd that space exploration is the only sector that doesn’t seem to bear any grand ambition, probably for good reasons which are kept away from us. Yet going to the stars is much more than launching rockets, it”s about uniting humans in their perception of their place & role in the cosmos.

    I guess unity is not, and hasn’t been, the main objective of space powers….Too bad.

  19. stephen,

    The Energia is a long dead project that is largely unproven, while the boost phase of the Shuttle, once the problems with the solid fuel boosters were resolved, has been absolutely reliable. Reuse of shuttle elements is also prescribed by the legislation funding the Moon project and the Ares I and V essentially violate that mandate in any case. There is absolutely no need for the ARES I, as there are three other vehicles in the fleet with the same capacity that have only to be man-rated to carry Orion. The Delta IV Heavy is the most reliable vehicle in the fleet, and should be declared man-rated just from history. The problem with that is that none of them provide adequate power or space to supply the ISS with major spares. The Direct 2.0 Jupiter 132 provides a safety margin for manned flights and can carry enough cargo to supply anything that is needed at the ISS as well as capacity to boost the ISS when needed. The Jupiter 232 has more capacity than the ARES V with much less development cost and much more margin. If the J2X is then developed over time, the Jupiter 232 can carry even more payload, allowing it to supply many possible future needs. With another tank segment and/or a couple more strap-ons, the sky is almost the limit. But the major advantage of Direct is that it keeps the current workforce and comes on line 2-3 years earlier than ARES of any variety, with capacity to boost almost any neartime load envisioned as well as a safety margin for manned flights that is far superior to ARES I. It also does not require the 5 segment booster for either the Jupiter 132 or 232, allowing us to use the huge number of existing boosters. The ARES has no particular advantages, twice the development cost, a loss of trained personnel, and a longer time line. It needs to be dropped along with it’s chief proponent, Michael Griffin. He has proven to be a man with neither vision nor common sense.

  20. People just don’t get it. I’ve worked in the aerospace field for 30 years. This is about money, not technology.

    Space technology is developed by large corporations that filed large teams of extremely talented people to work on these programs. If everything goes smoothly, they get to “ramp down” those teams (meaning lay off all that talent), and go into maintenance mode.

    With all of the billions it takes to develop new systems, no one is in a hurry to begin ramping down. Hence, costs inevitably rise. Engineers also work off of “interest”. There is a natural desire to explore new technologies.

    It is simply not possible to hire a large, talented, experienced workforce and then tell them to reuse old technologies and cut the costs wherever possible. All you’ll end up with is a bunch of rejects from other projects, and bean counters.

    No one believes in this project.

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