Obama to take ownership of Constellation

by | May 6, 2009 | Seradata News | 5 comments

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Is it that surprising that a new Democratic party administration might want to understand what has come of a controversial Republican president’s return to the Moon programme that is set to last the entirety of the new government’s term of office?

Its one way an Obama supporter might spin the much reported review of NASA’s Constellation programme

Initially Obama had talked about a review of the space agency’s core mission, then NASA’s John Olsen told Hyperbola that the organisation expected a blue ribbon review with the new incoming administrator and now the word on the street is that the Moon programme is to be the focus of a review that will start shortly

The blogosphere has latched onto what this review could mean for the Ares I crew launch vehicle and its much derided solid rocket motor first stage. This follows in the wake of reports of NASA reducing the crew compliment of the Orion crew exploration vehicle and other internet claims that an Aerospace Corporation report for NASA says that Evolved Expendable Launch vehicles aka EELVs can send Orion into low Earth orbit as well as Ares can

But Hyperbola has learned that the review is likely to take on the characteristics of a truth and reconciliation committee

Truth in terms of what has actually happened over the last five years, what things actually cost to develop and what budget NASA will actually get in the years to come. The full steam ahead “rosy picture” painted by some in NASA over the last few years is apparently light years from the harsh reality we have yet to learn about

And by reconciliation Hyperbola does not necessarily mean the bringing together of previously warring parties but reconciling the need to extend ISS operations with the goal of “returning” to the Moon by around 2020

If you are extending ISS operations, as Hyperbola is expecting NASA to do, you are going to have to review the Moon plan because you simply can not afford to go as far and as fast with one if you are doing the other at the same time

Before this week’s review revelations the blogosphere got excited over comments made by acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese about achieving, in the next decade, a LEO crew and cargo and docking capability and the potential for missions that were beyond Earth orbit but not quite Moon outpost missions

This is one possible end result from the budget compromise due to ISS extension but should not be read as a firm indication of where the agency is going. A Moonbase may still be the target and Ares I may still have its solid rocket first stage come this third quarter

It has also been reported that the Ares V cargo launch vehicle (CaLV) and Altair lunar lander trade study contracts have been delayed due to the imminent budget. Hyperbola emailed NASA PAO last Friday (1 May) about the contract announcement that was planned for last month but got no reply – so how true the budget claim is I don’t know

The contract delay may be due to this forthcoming review and a preference for putting the CaLV and Altair on hold until that is done, while it may be more significant and monies for the cargo launcher and lander could have been deleted from the 2010 budget

Overall then what does Hyperbola think will happen?

This review is not necessarily going to be the end of the much criticised Ares I.  This review is a political process to reconcile the many parties to the space programme to the new space station focused human spaceflight plan – that began with Obama’s telecon with the ISS crew – and find a roadmap to prepare for the day ISS hits the Pacific ocean

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