Could Ares Be Axed?

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.

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.

Stay tuned.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

11 Replies to “Could Ares Be Axed?”

  1. Pulling staff off a vehicle headed to test flights doesn’t seem like a way to accelerate anything.

    Seems to me they are trying to decide between the political inconvenience of the gap and the parties drive to do away with Bush projects.

  2. Shuttle derived technology involves continued use of 70’s architectures. Haven’t we (Humanity) gone further? The solid rocket boosters have a proven reliability but also have proven vibration problems as well as the use of some rather nasty pollutants for fuel.

    I like the idea of using what’s already been developed as a cost saving method – that’s a ‘no brainer’. The new(er) Atlas and Delta’s seem to fit into this picture quite well… as does the ESA’s heavy lift booster. Why reinvent the wheel?

    When the Jules Verne was launched recently to the ISS it proved that there are already working solutions/alternatives available. I like the idea of using the European modules to assemble a lunar orbiting space station… WHY throw these modules away after they’ve reached orbit? Why not REUSE that resource?

    An orbiting lunar space station could be used to as a permanent ‘way station’ to reach the lunar surface with smaller exploration modules – including rovers and manned landers. Developing a lunar injection propulsion system for the station based on Centaur or other existing systems would further lower the cost of developing new systems.

  3. After all’s been said and done… it isn’t ONE country reaching out for the stars!

  4. I’m digging the Shannon launch system. It would be a better stop-gap, and would basically replace the Shuttle orbiter, though I’m betting the Orbiters could still be used if needed.

  5. Oh dear – things are getting messy. The only outcome possible is that everything now gets mired in bureaucracy.

  6. It will be impossible to re-certify one for flight once its been mothballed and the service tooling destroyed.
    If a new shuttle series is built that’s another story. At 2 billion per bird and over 700 million per launch, its doubtful we’re doing this again.

    So far as side mount, I doubt the price drops much when you start throwing away more of the expensive bits… And its still a thirty year old system.

    What is most glaring with NASA is we are on our ninth attempt to come up with a government operated replacement for the shuttle.
    …If this fails, we should take a very thorough look at how we’ve been doing business these last few decades.

    We keep replacing the replacement and its inevitable we’re going to end up with the most politically expedient, most expensive, and least useful vehicles as a result.
    Maybe it really is time for NASA to look at purchasing flights from commercial operators instead of vehicle technology. Make someone else responsible for prepping the ship so that issues of up time and maintenance are no longer a government concern.

    NASA needs to think about exploration and advancing technology. Trying to build rockets and failing consistently has become a distraction from their mission.

  7. Perhaps NASA should consider using a large bottle of coca cola and a couple of hundredweight of Mentos.

  8. This is, by all appearances, the usual state of business in large projects.

    The safest and probably shortest way forward is Ares-1, provided that shuttle production is really retired. (I’ll bet it isn’t, time is the main disabler of old technology and there hasn’t been much of that.)

    Haven’t we (Humanity) gone further?

    The Constellation system is AFAIU centered on a balance of the safest possible system and the amount of (man-rated) lift system time gap. Reuse is essential for both. And it doesn’t hurt the finances either.

    the ESA’s heavy lift booster

    Perhaps you mean the whole Ariane system, as its solid boosters aren’t much different from the Constellation’s SRBs.

    Yes, they aren’t segmented and reused as Constellation’s solids, so they are presumably safer. (See above.) But then the Constellation boosters aren’t optimized for safety, they are optimized for economy or more precisely cheap transport on US trains. Or at least so I’ve been told by someone here.

  9. shuttle production

    D’oh! Make that “shuttle maintenance”, of course. It’s the LEO gap that is problematic, other orbital and/or extended capability is non-existent today.

  10. The choice is clear: either Direct, or a (Hu)man-rated Delta. Ares I was never a good idea.

  11. I’m really amazed, that the picture has not been more clear by now.
    My understanding was that we built a waystation outside the gravity pull of Earth?
    The Ares heavy lifter was and is needed for the constuction phase of this waystation!
    It is not realistic to go directly from this planet to outer space? Once we have that waystation built, we can bring people up with the SpaceX like vehicles. We need too much fuel to break free from this planet! The waystation is also the construction platform for any long distance space vehicles that go to Mars or Andromeda or to any planet that
    we can mine for resources? Space elevator any one?

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