Ares I is not dead: The Obama countdown to nowhere?

by | Jan 27, 2010 | Seradata News | 4 comments

NASA Space Shuttle programme office manager (and shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle proponent) John P. Shannon can feel warm and fuzzy inside today if this New York Times article’s (link care of Jeff Foust) claim of an in-depth technical exploration study comes true

In June 2009 Shannon speculated in an interview with this blog that the Review of US human spaceflight plans could result in a further study. In the same blog post this blogger pondered on the implications for the Constellation programme’s Ares I crew launch vehicle and even used the word propinquity

A post-Augustine technical investigation could, paradoxically, ensure Ares I wins by default because by the time any such study concluded the maturity of the crew launch vehicle design and propinquity of the 2015 target date could close the book on other proposals

The 2015 target date for a new US manned spacecraft launch has gone by the by but back then, as further information came to light, it began to seem as though last year’s appointment of NASA administrator Charles Bolden would see an acceleration of events

A view bolstered by the fiscal year 2010 NASA budget request statement that the spaceflight review would lead to “an updated [budget] request for Exploration activities” before the end of calendar year 2009. That never came and in October last year Bolden revealed that the process could take a lot longer than anyone had previously expected

And now this New York Times claim can only strengthen the belief that FY2011 will ape the FY2010 request – with a seconday submission to Congress – because of the article’s allegation that there will be a Bolden version of the Michael Griffin-era Exploration Systems Architecture Study

Certainly NASA’s budget is looking quite grim at the moment with alleged budget increases fading away and claims that rather than continue with the Ares rockets they have been removed from the request. One imagines that the Lockheed Martin Orion crew exploration vehicle will disappear as well. Perhaps instead there will be a general fund for exploration technology and a “commitment” to that updated budget request, post-ESAS II?

Criticism of having a baseline NASA budget that does not even begin to address the human spaceflight review’s central “option” of an extra $3 billion (in 2009 dollars effectively) for NASA by 2014 could be countered by saying that the ESAS II study will lead to this extra funding, if Congress backs its findings 

Then again maybe it is all a game of reverse psychology to get the Republicans to vote in an increase? One wonders, is the study a way of justifying to Congress why Constellation should be cancelled or will the commercial crew and cargo entrepreneurs find their dreams dashed by it? You still have to wonder if the outcome will in anyway reflect the review’s options or just ignore them

Much has been made in recent days of the plethora of FY2011 budget related press and public events that could see a roll out of the new Obama spaceflight vision. Sadly the policy politics surrounding the US space programme is beginning to immitate the UK experience of recent years with endless reviews that result in a countdown to nowhere 

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