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Aeronautics centres get key roles in Constellation programme

By Graham Warwick in Washington DC

NASA’s aeronautics research centres have been given key roles for its Constellation programme in a bid to use available resources from across the agency to develop the US space exploration system. The move has reduced the responsibilities of some of the centres traditionally associated with human spaceflight.

“Sixteen-seventeenths of NASA’s budget is spent on space and four [of 10] centres have an aeronautics heritage. It just doesn’t fit,” says administrator Michael Griffin. “We are working as hard as we can to shift people from tasks that are not being done in the future.” Aeronautic research remains important to NASA, he stresses, saying: “We can’t do space exploration without aeronautics.”

Responsibility for the Constellation transport system – crew exploration vehicle (CEV), crew launch vehicle (CLV), cargo launch vehicle and lunar lander – has been distributed across all 10 centres. Johnson Space Center in Houston – lead for Apollo and Space Shuttle – will manage the Constellation programme and CEV and mission operations projects, but key elements have gone to other centres.

Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama will manage the crew and cargo launch vehicles, and design the CLV first stage, but will also host the project offices for the lunar lander and its robotic precursors. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi will manage rocket propulsion testing for the CLV. Kennedy Space Center will be responsible for ground operations at the launch and landing sites.

Among the aeronautics centres given work on the programme, Ames Research Center in California is leading development of the CEV thermal protection system; Dryden Flight Research Center, also in California, will lead CEV launch abort system flight testing; Glenn Research Center in Ohio is responsible for the CEV service module and spacecraft adapter and design and development of CLV upper-stage elements; and Langley Research Center in Virginia will lead integration of the launch abort system and development of the CEV command module landing system.

Rounding out responsibilities for this initial phase of the Constellation programme, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland will co-lead the navigation system as well as software and avionics integration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

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