Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Orion Spacecraft Changes; Budget Problems

In an earlier post, I looked at the plans for the new Orion spacecraft that is supposed to replace the shuttle and take us back to the moon. NASA was still trying to decide whether or not it would touch down on land or on water:

Re-entry Dilemmas; the Orion Capsule and SS2.

At the time, opinion seemed to be leaning toward land, because the spacecraft would then be re-usable, and would save a lot of money in the long run. So I was kind of shocked to see this recently:

NASA keeps Orion landing reassessment results secret
NASA's work to resolve its Orion crew exploration vehicle's (CEV) landing system mass problems is being prolonged as one key study's deadline has been extended by six months, pushed back from March to the CEV's third quarter preliminary design review.

On 16 November 2007 NASA changed the Orion's nominal landing from land to water because of the mass penalty of carrying the necessary airbag system to the Moon and back. But the agency also decided it needed an emergency land landing capability. [...]

I'm shocked because landing on land was supposed to mean reusable capsules, and big savings in the long run. Aren't those savings now voided by going back to ocean landings? Also, this change has caused budget over-runs. That, combined with the fact that the Bush Administration failed to deliver the funds that were promised, has now put the entire project behind schedule:

NASA could delay plan to land astronauts on moon
[...] NASA's internal plans had called for Ares V to go to the moon in 2018, though the agency had announced a public goal of 2020. Internal deadlines are used by NASA to keep programs on track and to provide a margin of error for developmental problems.

But because of growing budget woes, the agency is resetting its internal date to 2020. And privately, engineers say that means the public 2020 date to send humans back to the moon is in deepening trouble.


Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin in a speech last week blamed the White House -- especially the Bush administration. He said that money available for Ares V and other moon projects had dropped from roughly $4 billion through 2015 to just $500 million.

"This was to be allocated to early work on the Ares V heavy-lifter, and the Altair lunar lander," he told the National Space Club annual Goddard Memorial Dinner. "With only a half-billion dollars now available, this work cannot be done."


The 2020 lunar launch date is a policy objective set by President Bush in 2004 and recently reaffirmed in President Obama's 2010 budget proposal. It's part of what the Obama team in February called a new chapter of "robust human and robotic space exploration." [...]

President Obama is supporting the project so far, but as it continues to fall behind, it's not looking very hopefull. Read the rest of the article for the details.


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