On 21 August NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle’s (CEV) preliminary design review starts and four-days later the first test firing of a solid rocket booster for its launcher, the Ares I, occurs but this week US president Barack Obama’s administration will be presented with a set of choices that could see both cancelled.
The US Review of human space flight plans committee [see box below] will give Obama’s administration these choices, with which the president will decide whether the US explores beyond low Earth orbit.
Cancellation of Orion and Ares I, the crew launch vehicle (CLV), would come after four-years of work and about $10 billion spent on the Moon return Constellation programme that has overseen their development since 2005, and which would also be ended.
In competition with Constellation for Moon return are alternative proposals from within NASA, the Space Shuttle-derived Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), and from industry the proposed evolution of the United Launch Alliance’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, such as the Atlas V, and finally the Jupiter rockets from an independent team called Direct.
While these alternatives’ appearences have been few, Constellation personnel have given at least 10 presentations and indicated in them that NASA could change its Ares rockets.
At the 29 July Huntsville, Alabama meeting Constellation’s Ares V cargo launch vehicle (CaLV) integration manager Steve Creech showed five variations on the baseline designs for Ares I and CaLV, which is to launch the Earth departure stage and Altair lunar lander.
Two of them show an Ares V that uses a 5m (16.3ft)-diamater Ares I upper stage, a design previously referred to by NASA as Ares IV, and a version called Ares V Light, where the 10m-diameter upper stage only supports an Orion or a lunar lander.
Above: This shows two variants of NASA's Ares V cargo launch vehicle, presented at the 29 July 2009 meeting of the Review of US human space flight plans commitee
The US Review of human spaceflight plans committee, created in May, is led by former Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine. It has held six public meetings since its first on 17 June, with the last due on 12 August, with locations including Huntsville, Alabama and Washington DC for the final one. It also undertook NASA site visits. On 14 August it is due to present its findings to Obama's director of the president's office of science and technology policy and NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Its report does not have recommendations, only options.