Obama to Re-examine Constellation Program

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

24 Replies to “Obama to Re-examine Constellation Program”

  1. I think many people are smiling, now that Direct 2.0 might have another chance 🙂

  2. The loss of seats on Orion followed by the culling of the moon base proposals suggested NASA was in a backward slide on Constellation before even getting to the first test launches.

    Its a bad start for the new administration.
    Its also an opportunity for Obama to put his foot down and make a Kennedy-esq proposal that shoves NASA into high gear.
    Unfortunately, he could also use the timing to flatten the whole manned space program. An idea he wasn’t entirely opposed to during the election.

    Considering some of these same people thought buying seats on a Chinese rocket was a good substitute for running our own ships… there’s lots to be concerned about.

  3. Coming up with an affordable plan for replacing the Shuttle seems to be nearly impossible given all the vested interests involved.

    I wish Obama luck in solving this one!

  4. “Kennedyesque” proposals are free (Bush gave one, too), but results are expensive.

    I personally don’t want to hear ANYTHING from NASA that involves anything more than five years in the future. Too far in the future. We should stick to smaller time schedules – when we’re talking ten years people get to thinking they’ve got plenty of time on their hands.

  5. Let me add to above – I’m not talking about getting to the moon in five years, but to have a solid result along the way to space. Simply a good, solid rocket, for example.

  6. Kevin, that’s just not realistic. Development time for many missions requires more than five years simply because it takes that long to develop missions that have to use cutting edge technology.

    Hubble could never have been proposed, planned, commissioned, developed, and completed in five years, and nor can many other missions NASA works on. I sympathize with the sentiment, but NASA does need to work on timelines longer than that.

  7. That’s a good point. I’d just like to see more closer, smaller milestones.

  8. Its not as impossible to run a mission in 5 years time if you already own most of the hardware.
    The awkward beauty of the Bush proposal was that it could have bridged the gap from earth orbit to mars by procuring the ships we would need while leaving the missions up to be planned.

    Bush’s failure was in not funding or promoting the program as such.

    As far as direct 2.0… Personally, I hold that side booster stack configuration responsible for the destruction of two astronaut crews.
    We would be paying less for a rocket that delivers less, sooner.
    Its difficult to get excited about that proposal.

  9. If things have to be scrapped, I at least hope the large Constellation launch vehicle can be saved. Think of the large probes and telescopes that can be put in space.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  10. I’m happy to read this news. I’ve never been a fan of the Orion capsule and consider it a crude space vehicle.

  11. I love the shuttle. Its expensive, suitable for LEO only and will be retired. But inspires, gets people passionate about space travel, but mostly it rocks. Only the Americans would go from a beautiful spacecraft that lands on a runway to a can that lands in the water and call it progress. Me, if I ran things, would refurbish the current shuttles, start design of a shuttle type replacement based on the current one, and built with new materials/methods employing the latest technologies and lessons learned and go with shuttle-C for heavy lift. Shuttle is now a mature and safe (IMHO) sytem with an excellent infrastructure in place. I know it won’t happen and I’m not looking for an argument. The shuttle era has come to an end. Too bad.

  12. I totally agree with you stargeezer. The shuttle is an incredible vehicle design that should be improved upon. I still don’t understand why it needs to be retired. And not only are we going back to a capsule, but we can’t seem to do it successfully. Didn’t we master the capsule design in the 60’s and 70’s and then move on to the shuttle? We took our “giant step for mankind” but now seem to be blundering around in the dark.

  13. The shuttle looks like the more advanced vehicle, but it was less capable than Apollo on the missions we ended up doing.
    It carried less cargo, had less range, couldn’t fly nearly as fast or withstand as high a reentry speed, and can’t stay aloft as long as the capsules it replaced.
    Yes she carries more people and can return cargo, but those ended up being features we didn’t put to our advantage.

    Facing a choice between what looks like a spaceship and what performs better as one, the wings are merely a decoration. The won’t be useful until we ring a cheaper way to reach orbital speeds than rockets.

  14. Direct 2.0 always looked good to me – I tend to support “re-use and recycle” programs, Since the lifting capacity is greater, there might be no need to loose those two seats in the capsule?
    As for keeping/updating the shuttle – I’m not certain whether it looks lie a good idea to me. The shuttle always struck me as more cool looking, rather than optimised for functionality. It seems to carry a lot of needless mass – beginning to look elderly and a bit obese.
    Now, if the capsule could return and land using rockets, if this could be done safely……………

  15. New changes in five years, I just don’t think it would/could happen, and as to ten years, well, that’s a no-go area too, it’s just too long — we’re already psyched-up for a 2020 return date to the Moon.

    There are a lot of employees working on both projects (some for free on their own time), so that will be a prime target in which Obama will have to look at. As this President is intent on keeping as many people working as possible, the Thursday announcement will more likely have some kind of compromise or shifting around of major resources so’s that the 2020 date, or perhaps 2021 WILL be met. But, it’s going to be a tough one, that’s for sure!

    PS. New Moon Atlas launched — do have a peek 🙂 Address: w w w.moonposter.ie

  16. I look at the Direct 2.0 option in light of its’ heavy lift capabilities. Future larger space telescopes, especially ones designed to look at high-energies, are usually more massive due to weight constraints of the telescopes’ instruments ( remember GRO and Chandra were very heavy telescopes). Future space-based Gravity Wave detectors (i.e. LIGO) also contain fairly massive components. This launch system uses fairly well known components, giving it a leg up compared to other launch systems currently under study in terms of reliability and space-tested solutions. Even ignoring the manned configurations, it appears that Direct 2.0 has a substantial proven capability to lift heavy hardware into space. No need to start from scratch when it comes to moving scientific payloads into a variety of orbits.

  17. @ jayem4646, thanks for the link to the new lunar atlas website. Great to see this made available for interested amateurs on the internet.

  18. i think he should put the x-33 back on, and then set us going back to the moon in 5 years and the having a ready to live in base in 8 years and us going onto mars within 6-7 years(it only took us under 10 years from the time the 1st satailite was lanched to get to the moon) come on we(man)should have been going to the moons of jupiter by now!!!

  19. I am all for LISA. There was one of these UT articles last month about microrockets meant to stationkeep this sort of spacecraft.

    I am personally not a big fan of the space shuttle. There has been little working science that came out of it. The Hubble service missions, such as the one coming up, and a couple of other missions actually accomplished something. Most of the rest of the STS missions amounted to gymnastics in space. Even the satellite launch service missions were abandoned by the early 1990’s. That should be a hint! The costs were larger than regular launch programs. The space station is frankly a hugely expensive boondoggle that has accomplished almost nothing. Compare this with Spitzer, WMAP, Casinni, Mars rovers, and so forth.

    Space capsules might be “old fashioned,” but if we are to return to the moon, likely for dubious purposes unfortunately, then a no-fuss approach is better.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  20. @ Jon Hanford

    Thanks Jon… Re: New Moon Atlas.

    John — w w w.moonposter.ie

  21. All along I like the concept of Direct 2.0. The baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bath water using that concept. The idea allows for the reuse of a lot of elements of the shuttle program, including a lot of the tooling that goes into making the SRBs and the main fuel tanks. Direct 2.0 will will give us some great heavy lift capability.

    With Ares, I never favored the idea of solely relying on an SRB to launch a human crew. 2.0 seems to offer a better margin of safety (or at least survivability) in the event of an all-out launch failure. The configuration should also allow us the lift capacity to keep the 6-person capsule.

    In the process, I sort of would hope they could help out projects like Falcon and Dragon to be able to hitch a ride to the space station instead of reling on ‘outside’ source for trips to orbit…seems to be a ‘lot’ of potential there as well.

  22. Sadly, I must agree that is time for a long hard review of attended spaceflight. We have invested so much in the ISS and I want that to continue but for now, we need to leave deep space (beyond the Van Allen belts) to the robots.

    We are at a crisis, if you have not noticed. A world-wide depression and wars in at least two nations that are still unresolved. We have military hardware deploy around the planet for some damn reason while millions are living on the street and a work force that lives in fear and loathing of joining them. And our nations’s pollution affects the entire world.

    There is so much that the U.S. needs to do first to join the community of civilized nations. The planets can wait and the moon can wait. Would not a tried and true Delta IV or Altas 5 booster make a good launch vehicle for a new craft to carry people and cargo to the ISS?

    It is both sad and iconic to remember that the Shuttle program was delayed for years due to demands of the military for more payload and now we are talking about delaying the replacement to make it less. But this is necessary until the U.S. is civilized and strong again.

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