The maiden flight of NASA's Ares I crew launch vehicle and its Orion crew exploration vehicle could be delayed until after September 2017, along with an Ares/Orion development cost hike of $7 billion, according to a US Congressional Budget Office report.

The 30-month delay figure consists of 18 months represented by the office's $7 billion overrun estimate, combined with its Monte Carlo simulation showing NASA is unlikely to complete the remaining Shuttle missions until December 2011. The orbiter fleet is planned to be retired by September 2010. The $7 billion is calculated from a previous analysis of NASA programmes by the budget office that found an average of a 50% increase on original cost estimates.

"If NASA's total budget grew by no more than 2% annually, such cost increases...would imply a delay of as much as 18 months beyond March 2015 [for Orion/Ares' first flight]," the report says. "A one-year delay in retiring the [Shuttle] would result in delay [for Orion/Ares]."

The remaining flights are the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, STS-125, eight International Space Station trips and the launching of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment to the ISS. However president-elect Barack Obama can cancel the AMS mission under the NASA Authorisation Act 2008.

Source: Flight International