The White House is expected to announce on Thursday that they will order a full review of the NASA’s Constellation program. The reason for the review is to determine whether the Ares I rocket and the Orion crew capsule are the best options for replacing the space shuttle. According to the Orlando Sentinel, this announcement will coincide with the release of the Obama administration’s $18.7 billion spending plan for NASA. Obama has said little about NASA since he took office in January, but altering plans for the next generation of crewed space vehicles would be a major change of course for the space agency.
This review follows decisions by NASA to alter the Orion spacecraft – decreasing the crew size from six to four in order to save weight – as well as months of critical reports questioning whether the new Ares I rocket and Orion capsule will be ready to fly to orbit by 2015.
Other problems with Ares have surfaced, such as potential violent shaking caused by vibrations in its solid-rocket first stage, and the rocket’s tendency to drift on takeoff into its launch tower. Also, its estimate costs through 2015 have risen from $28 billion in 2006 to $44 billion today.
Agency and industry insiders said this budget proposal should offer the first major clues as to the new president’s plans for the agency, the Sentinel reported. Without an administrator NASA has not had clear direction from the current administration.
The news of a possible review of Constellation have given hope to the proponents of an alternative rocket system called Direct 2.0. The Direct system proposes a Jupiter 120 rocket, which is essentially the shuttle’s fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters with a capsule mounted on top in place of a side-mounted orbiter.
This plan was designed in part by NASA engineers working on their own time who were frustrated with the Ares rocket.
One study, called the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, or ESAS, ruled out using the military rockets and other systems while another independent study commissioned by NASA found that rockets currently being used by the military to launch top-secret spy satellites could be affordably and safely adapted to ferry humans to the international space station and, eventually, the moon and beyond.
But under administrator Mike Griffin, NASA decided against that course of action. The ESAS study was protested by many as having little input and participation from contractors and rocket companies.
Source: Orlando Sentinel