Approximately $400 million extra has become available for NASA manned space flight and managers are currently discussing the possibility of using it toward a second test flight of the Ares I-X. The first test flight of the next generation launch vehicle is planned for a summer 2009 launch, and with this extra funding comes the possibility of a second test flight dubbed “Ares I-X prime”. In a renewed vigour for getting the US back to the Moon by 2020, and the looming “5-year gap”, it appears the extra funding may allow NASA to hasten the development of the Constellation Program…
So it turns out the economic stimulus package will affect the development of NASA’s Constellation Program after all, possibly speeding it up. Of growing concern is the fact that it is looking very likely (according to the White House budget blueprint) that the shuttle will be retired as planned in 2010, leaving five long years until the planned 2015 completion of the Constellation Program. This 5-year gap has spawned all kinds of political problems (i.e. depending on the Russian space agency to get US astronauts to the International Space Station), but it has also stimulated investment in private space launch companies.
Although details are still being worked out on how the extra money will be distributed, it is hoped that the $1 billion allocated to NASA from the stimulus package may “save or preserve 7,000 jobs”. The money invested in manned spaceflight could also speed up technological advancement, possibly speeding Constellation progress. Managers hope an extra test-flight of the Ares I-X could also be used to hasten development of prototype flight systems. Doug Cooke, associate administrator for exploration systems, confirmed that to use this extra funding for a second test flight “certainly is within the realm of possibility.”
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By laying on a second test flight after the Ares I-X scheduled for this summer, Ares I-X prime could substantially accelerate progress, possibly reducing the 5-year gap by as much as a year. The second flight of the Ares I-X would test the five-segment version of the four-segment solid fuel shuttle booster that will act as the first stage of the Ares I. The solid fuel launch abort system would also be tested at high altitude.
Source: Aviation Week