President Obama in his FY2011 budget for NASA cancelled the Constellation Program and its Ares 1 and 5 rockets that were to be used for a return to the Moon. The program was under-funded from the start since the previous Bush 2 Administration and subsequent Congresses since 2005, so the timelines for launching rockets and capsules that were part of the project were pushed out to at least 5-10 years beyond their original online dates.
The program however was supposed to be the successor to the Space Shuttles, which is slated to retire by the end of this year, early next year. So that left a gaping hole in US domestic spaceflight capability. For the first time in 50 years, NASA would have no indigenous capability to get their astronauts to Low Earth Orbit and the International Space Station.
The result was much consternation, political hypocrisy and name-calling, lies, committee meetings and various attempts at some compromise.
The Obamanator compromised somewhat on April 15th at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) when he announced his space plan and relented on cancelling the Orion spaceship; by allowing it to be finished, only to be stripped down to a rescue capsule version to be docked at the ISS.
Well, that wasn’t good enough. As most of us space-cadets know, Congress last year passed a law stating that NASA can’t cancel parts of the Constellation Program unless approved by them. That leaves the FY2011 budget in limbo, with contracts being issued, but not enforced and the previous FY2010 having the force of law and can not be cancelled.
Now because of the FY2010 law, the Ares 1 rocket is being resurrected, by being built for flight tests:
A plan has been created for the continued use of Ares via a series of test flights, ultimately leading up to a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) program in the second half of this decade. Appearing to bank on major changes being negotiated by Congress in NASA’s FY2011 budget proposal, the plan would result in three Ares I test flights being conducted by the end of 2014.
President Obama’s FY2011 clearly states the cancellation of the Constellation Program via an alternative path which relies heavily on the commercial sector.
In the face of heavy criticism, President Obama announced a slight refinement to the plan, which allowed Orion to survive – but only in a lifeboat role for the International Space Station (ISS) – along with a five year development plan to finalize a design for a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV).
However, until the US Congress approves the plan – which the next key hearing set for May 12 – CxP can continue to develop hardware and perform tests, even if it’s at a reduced level.
The latest test came only last week, when the PA-1 (Pad Abort) test of the Launch Abort System (LAS) was successfully conducted at White Sands.
Although managers avoided references to the original plan of testing Orion’s pad escape option for the purpose of pulling the crew away from a failing Ares I launch vehicle – instead noting the system may become applicable to commercial launch vehicle – Orion project Mark Geyer summed up the mood of the Constellation workforce’s view of the “new” plan.
“There’s a lot going on with Constellation that you don’t see, as there’s no fire and smoke,” he noted during the post test press conference. “There’s people killing themselves working on this every day, as they believe America should be a leader in space.”
Constellation/HLV Specific Articles: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/news/constellation/
Ares Test Plan:
Somewhat out of the blue, a potential return of Ares has been created by CxP, although the plan is likely to be one of several proposals that may earn the backing of lawmakers, providing the FY2011 budget is not approved in its current form.
The plan calls for three more tests which will utilize Ares I-X Prime, I-Y and Ares I vehicle designs between 2013 and 2014, working in parallel with a Heavy Lift Vehicle effort – taking the entire test plan out into 2018.“Schedule: FLIGHT TEST 2: Launch Date: March 21, 2013. FLIGHT TEST 3: Launch Date: March 21, 2014. FLIGHT TEST 4: Launch Date: November, 2014,” noted expansive information acquired by L2.
“Heavy Lift: HL-X0 Early MPTA (Main Propulsion Test Article) at SSC (Stennis Space Center) January, 2013. Pathfinder/HL-X1 Core at SSC April, 2014/At KSC November, 2014. HL-X1 September, 2015. HL-X2 September, 2016. HL-X3 September, 2017. HL-X4 September, 2018.”
The information concentrates on the three Ares tests, though graphics show the Heavy Lift Vehicle is an in-line configuration supporting what appears to be an Ares I Upper Stage. The vehicle portrayed appears to have an element of synergy with the previously touted Ares IV.
No mention of required funding, or political and administration decisions, are made in the information, although the plan does state that a decision would be made in May, in order to start work on the test plan on June 1.
The past paragraph is key here, “No mention of required funding, or political and administration decisions, are made in the information…”.
How is this going to be paid for?
Sen. Nelson of Florida recently mentioned asking Congress for an additional $726 million on top of the FY2011 $19 billion originally funded for NASA for one flight test of an Ares 1 variant, but other than that, nothing was discussed.
This is turning into a huge soap-opera with tax-payer dollars as the prize.
Fire ’em all I say!