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 NASAâ€™s Constellation Program faces severe problems and the new spacecraft might never work as intended. The Government Accountability Office, (they call themselves the â€œthe investigative arm of Congressâ€) 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:
â€¢ Both vehicles have a history of weight issues;
â€¢ Excessive vibration during launch threatens system design;
â€¢ Uncertainty about how flight characteristics will be impacted by a fifth segment added to the Ares I launch vehicle;
â€¢ Ares I upper stage essentially requires development of a new engine;
â€¢ 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
â€¢ 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