Launch abort testing for NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle, planned for next year at the US space agency’s Ames Research Center in California, could be delayed due to budget cuts.
The threat of budget-related delays again brings into question the timetable NASA has announced for its new spaceship, (Flight International, 12-18 September), which calls for manned flights before or during 2014.
Blue-lit image of scale model of Orion during NASA windtunnel tests
NASA Ames’ Free Flight Facility, built to test external-tank debris aerodynamics for the agency’s Space Shuttle return-to-flight effort following the Columbia disaster in 2003, will be used for Project Orion’s launch abort work.
The facility will examine how the crew capsule, after being pulled clear of the Ares 1 booster by its solid-rocket launch abort system, will alter its trajectory to descend heatshield-first. “The tests should be next fiscal year, in [the second quarter of calendar year 2007], but there is some debate about that because they might be delayed due to budget cuts,” says Ames senior research scientist Jeffery Brown.
Another Ames’ facility being used for Orion research is its Unitary Wind Tunnel complex. The research centre carried out descent tests on 2.7%- and 7%-scale Orion models earlier this year and found issues of pressure variations over the new conical shape.