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Constellation's year of preliminary design reviews sees mixed progress

Leaders of NASA's return-to-the-Moon Constellation programme are reporting steady progress despite a delay from September to November of the Orion crew exploration vehicle preliminary design review.

The two-month delay was decided after a 22 April meeting about the CEV's preliminary design progress. A similar meeting in September will decide if the review's start is to be in November. Orion project office manager Mark Geyer says more time is needed for integrating into Orion the changes to elements of its design after its systems requirement review.

"[The mass requirement] is tight because we want to go to the Moon and we don't want to leave reliability on the ground," says Geyer. He says his team is now examining what a water landing would mean for the Orion crew module's reusability.

The Orion's launch abort system's (LAS) pad abort test is still planned for later this year, although the 2,270kg (5,000lb) LAS motor will be reduced in mass, according to Geyer, because of drag reductions resulting from Orion/LAS outer mould line shape changes. He also says the first engineering unit for Orion's low impact docking system had been built.

Constellation's first test flight for Orion's booster, the Ares I-X crew launch vehicle (CLV), is still planned for 15 April 2009 from Kennedy Space Center's launch complex pad 39B despite the potential impact of a Space Shuttle mission delay.

While the STS-125 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission orbiter will launch from pad 39A, a second rescue Shuttle will be taking up pad 39B, stopping changes that need to be made to the infrastructure for I-X. If there is a delay, Constellation programme manager Jeffrey Hanley has funding reserved to cover any extension of I-X related work for a "period of weeks". Hanley says changes to Kennedy's vehicle assembly building to accommodate the Ares I-X are progressing.

Ares project office manager Steve Cook says 5,000h Ares I windtunnel tests have been completed, which he says is 70% of the testing planned. The CLV's upper stage preliminary design review is set for July, while the review for the stage's subsystems is already complete.

Another part of Ares I that has passed its preliminary design review is the gimble bearing and gas generator valves for the upper stage's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne J-2X engine. Those components are now at critical design review. Drogue chute testing from a Boeing C-17 for the first-stage recovery system will take place in July.

Hanley says more specific capabilities for the Ares V cargo launch vehicle and the Altair lunar lander will be determined in June following an earlier refinement of the Constellation programme's 2005 Exploration Systems Architecture Study that set out the needs to return to the Moon.

The first manned flight of Orion is still planned for March 2015, but, Hanley says, Constellation's funding through 2010 could delay that.

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