Accelerating the Constellation programme is the focus of a NASA study that is expected to report its findings in early December.
The study, that could last up to 60 days, is examining how to make the programme's plan, up to 2014, "more robust". NASA will look at what it can do to achieve a Ares I crew launch vehicle, Orion crew exploration vehicle (CEV) September 2014 first flight, when March 2015 is the current commitment, what options there are to bring forward that flight date by a year, and what can be done to accelerate it by 18 months.
"It is not just Constellation [personnel], we have outside experts looking at the long-range architecture. We will provide [the report] to a future administration [and Congress]," says NASA's Constellation programme manager, Jeffrey Hanley, speaking to the press on 29 October. He says the study is not linked to the NASA Authorisation Act 2008 signed into law last month.
Hanley's Ares project office manager Steve Cook also gave details on recent and forthcoming progress. He says the CEV's system baseline review had been completed earlier this month, the CLV's first-stage solid rocket booster's first segment propellant casting was due on 3 November, and the Ares upper stage J-2X engine is to begin its critical design review on 13 November.
Hanley also gave a new target date of 12 July 2009 for Constellation's Ares I-X test flight. That was based on a February date for the STS-125 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission 4 (SM4) because the two launches will use Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39B. The Ares I-X date will be finalised once Hanley receives information from the Space Shuttle programme in November. At a 30 October press conference NASA said SM4 would not occur before May.