NASA's exploration launch projects office director Steve Cook denies that a proposed Ares IV means the Ares I crew launch vehicle will be dropped. He also distances himself from fixed dates for Constellation programme launches.
Rebutting persistent rumours that the Ares I has insufficient thrust to launch Orion, Cook says the more-powerful Ares IV will be studied over the next year, but only so that the booster could give NASA "some earlier mission capability".
Cook rejects speculation the Ares IV would replace the Ares I if NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) programme provided a crew launcher (Flight International, 2-8 January). COTS could result in a capability to launch crew to the International Space Station being demonstrated early in the next decade, around the same time that Ares I and its Orion crew exploration vehicle are planned to become operational.
The maiden launch for a crewed Orion/Ares I stack is scheduled for October 2013, according to the draft request for proposals (RFP) for Ares I upper stage production released earlier this month. That is 11 months earlier than the previously stated target of September 2014, but Cook says the date may change. "We are still working on [the milestones]. The latest I have is in the [RFP]," says Cook. The agency's centres and their contractors have used various dates and names for the Ares I test flights and maiden crewed launch. "We are still working on the naming conventions. The [dates and names] may change," says Cook, based at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
His comments mark a departure from the agency's preoccupation with dates and with starting crewed operations as soon as possible after 2010. NASA is unlikely to finalise the names and possible dates for the test launches until an Aerospace Corporation study it has funded into related ground testing is completed this year (Flight International, 17-23 October 2006).