Members of the Augustine Panel reviewing NASA’s future plans have asked the space agency to consider different approaches to send astronauts back to the moon. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, panel members have told NASA they want to see the effects of both “minor tweaks and wholesale changes to its Constellation Program,” which includes the newly designed Ares rocket and the Orion crew capsule. Ares has been controversial from the start, but NASA has spent the past four years and more than $3 billion creating and defending the rocket. Would starting over just mean a bigger gap between the shuttle and whatever comes next?
Current plans have the Ares rocket ready to launch by 2015, however, most critics say there’s no way the Constellation program can meet its 2015 launch schedule — let alone return astronauts to the moon by 2020 — given the technical problems and multibillion-dollar cost overruns on its Ares I rocket.
The White House named the 10-member review panel, chaired by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, to review NASA’s manned-space strategy for the next decade. The Sentinel reported, “One of the [panel’s] subcommittees has asked the [Constellation] program to present both the baseline … program and one of the variants that they have studied as well,” said one committee official, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak for the committee.
The official provided no details about the “variant,” but the request coincides with NASA pulling engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama from their work on Ares I to study creation of a smaller version of the Ares V that could carry both crew and heavy equipment.
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Other possible options include a shuttle-derived architecture presented to the committee by shuttle program manager John Shannon, or the Direct 3.0 launch system created by a group of NASA engineers.
The Sentinel reports that NASA insiders and contractors say pulling engineers from Ares is “far from standard practice and could herald the demise of the Ares I.”
“They are looking at a whole new launch architecture,” the Sentinel quoted one NASA contractor familiar with the study. “Although it’s still too early to pronounce Ares I dead, it is safe to assume that members of the committees have doubts about it.”
Meanwhile, NASA presses ahead with a planned first launch test of the Ares I-X rocket planned for August 30. Just today the third motor segment for rocket has been moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building for to mate with the rest of the Ares stack tonight.
Source: Orlando Sentinel