Bad news for the Constellation program?

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The Constellation program is the future space transportation system of NASA , developed to bring humans and cargo into earth orbit and beyond. It is the key element or returning humans to the Moon by 2020, as stated in the Vision for Space Exploration.

All the components of the Constellation program has been designed to be as reliable and cheap as possible, while still being able to transport both astronauts and large quantities of material too the Moon. The complexity of this project is enormous, and I have been following it with great interest the last few years. Unfortunately the Ares I rocket and the Orion capsule, together tasked with bringing humans from Earth to space, has encountered several problems this year.

  • Funding: NASA wanted to try to close the gap between the last shuttle flight and the first Ares I flight, but this is not likely to happen due to budget cuts. This means that we most likely will have to wait until 2015 before we see the first Ares I launch.
  • Performance: The Ares I performance numbers have been changed several times since the project started, resulting in forced mass savings for the Orion capsule.
  • Thrust Oscillations: Vibration problems due to thrust oscillations in the first stage of Ares I. The thrust oscillations were initially reported to be very severe, but NASA says they can handle the problem.
  • Deadline slips: The Orion PDR deadline has slipped several times due to a variety of reasons.
  • Subcontractor problems: ATK and USA fought over contract issues related to the work on Ares I for while, and USA even suspended all Ares I related work for a while. Luckily these problems have recently been solved.

All programs of such a complexity level will of course run into problems every now and then, but it looks like the tendency for Ares I is negative. NASA and the subcontractors really need to sit down and get their bearings straight with this project, otherwise the delays will result in massive cost overruns, and possible delays in other parts of the Constellation program.

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