OFFICIAL: Ares I is not dead says spaceflight review chairman

by | Jul 17, 2009 | Seradata News | 2 comments

Unsurprisingly despite various reports on the blogosphere that Ares I is dead, or toast as some people like to call it, the rocket is very much still in the running according to Review of US human spaceflight plans committee chairman Norman Augustine in his progress report telecon to the media today

It did seem a bit odd when the first reports started to emerge about Augustine’s committee asking for alternatives to NASA’s Ares I crew launch vehicle. That was because looking at alternatives to that and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle is the whole point of the review

And we have known about that from the very beginning and at the 17 June meeting DIRECT and Heavy Lift Vehicle and others had their time to make their claims

What Augustine did say seems to repeat what he said to the NASA Advisory Council according to this blog post – link care of Clark Lindsey’s excellent – and more

During the 17 July telecon Q&A he started out saying that he expected to be able to give insights “in a couple of weeks” into the constraints his team would consider when drawing up the options they would supply NASA and the White House with

Hyperbola did not get to ask a question during the telecon but the most interesting questions centred around the idea of alternatives to the Ares rockets. Augustine said of the committee’s views on Ares I, “It would be completely wrong to say Ares is dead in the water.”

He also said that the committee has looked at various derivatives of Ares and NASA’s associate administrator for programme analysis and evaluation Mike Hawes, when he spoke during the telecon, explained that the panel had told the agency that it would consider variations on Constellation presented to it but he did not have any detail on those proposals

On particular technical questions Augustine said that NASA and Aerospace Corporation were helping the committee and that Shuttle safety issues were also of interest

As this was a progress report Augustine was asked about the likely options his committee might give and he said that he expected to give options that had “a variety of goals” bywhich he meant destinations such as near Earth objects, the Moon and Mars

As for what options would be proposed to realise such goals Augustine spoke of there being “nothing specific yet,” but the options would be driven by budget considerations, and different budgets that would change the schedules of programmes would be included, and other options would be “performance levels” related though what that meant wasn’t clear

Then he mentioned options on the impact of “when and what one does with Ares V,” which probably means delaying Ares V to pay for International Space Station (ISS) exploitation beyond 2015. And he talked about options for changing crew compliments on Orion, reflecting NASA’s ongoing review of its plans for the crew exploration vehicle

International options were mentioned and this could be how you would realise a Moon, Mars goal with increased international involvement while NASA has a flat budget

Finally his committee is clearly looking at all the possible uses of commercial vehicles. Augustine talked about examining not only the “newer companies,” as he referred to Orbital Sciences and Space Exploration Technologies, delivering ISS cargo but also to them delivering to “staging points” beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) but he expected much of the committee’s focus to be on the Commercial Resupply Services programme NASA has for ISS cargo

Human rating the Orbital, SpaceX vehicles was also mentioned as something to look at and new upper stages, which maybe a reference to SpaceX’s Raptor plans, or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles?

Augustine also clarified when his committee would deliver its report with some options, that being the end of August and that his committee would work for 90-days, 30 less than the 120 its charter mandated it for. Augustine did not know when the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which legally ordered the review, and the White House and NASA would come to some sort of decision based on the report

While all of this goes on of course NASA continues its work on Ares I, with this latest [June] video dated 9 July 2009 on the NASAtv Youtube website

However the 45th Space Wing study that NASAWatch has made public could be seen as mark against the Ares I would it not be for the fact that no Space Shuttle solid rocket booster has ever exploded and only the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident saw them terminated in flight

Exploration Systems Mission Directorate associate administrator Doug Cooke made a comment at the 17 June Augustine meering about the SRBs from the Challenger disaster saying that, “[They]…looked at how the boosters came part, and they tended to fly sideways more than they did up” but it wasn’t clear if he was describing their uncontrolled flight after Challenger exploded or terminated SRBs’ debris velocities

Like oscillation the abort fratricide issue will no doubt hang over Ares I for some time to come

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