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Lockheed Accelerates NASA’s Orion—Manned Lunar Flyby in 2016? April 26, 2011

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, New NASA Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), Orion (craft), United Launch Alliance , 1 comment so far

In an exclusive interview with Universe Today, Lockheed Martin’s John Karas announced today that they’ve accelerated NASA’s Orion craft to a 2013 first launch—with a potential 2016 manned lunar flyby!

One of the few pieces of NASA’s Constellation program to survive it’s cancellation, the Orion is the manned vehicle slated to replace (more or less) the Space Shuttle for ventures to the ISS and elsewhere.

Orion has been planned to launch on Lockheed’s Delta IV rocket for 2013, but Congress’ recent push to have NASA develop and launch a Heavy Lift Rocket (HLV) by 2016 has presented some interesting options:

“If we have a heavy lifter, the 2016 flight with the first human crew could be a deep space mission or a lunar fly by lasting more than a week.”- John Karas, VP of Human Space Flight programs, Lockheed Martin; “Lockheed accelerates Orion to Achieve 2013 launch and potential 2016 Manned Lunar Fly-By“, Ken Kremer, UniverseToday.com

A manned lunar fly-by in 2016 is a huge development!

For comparison, the original Constellation timeline had a manned lunar fly-by in…2019. So this would actually be three years earlier than Constellation would have been! With the first 2013 Orion flight being about a year faster.

Granted, this assumes the new NASA HLV rocket stays on track, but even if the timeline’s delayed two full years, it still beats the slated Constellation mark.

As far as a lunar landing, part of this speedier timeline is related to the Altair lander having been axed with Constellation; the program’s first Orion lunar flight would have included a landing. But it’s not out of the question a lander could be developed by private space or even within NASA before long; even multiple-year delays would still put this timeline to around Constellation’s.

At this stage, it looks like NASA might end up having hardly missed a beat on its way back to the Moon. The universe takes funny turns sometimes…who knew cancelling your program got you to your destination faster? ;)

NASA Authorization Bill Passed by House September 30, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Commercial Crew Development [CCDev], Constellation, NASA, National Space Policy, Obama, Space Shuttle , add a comment

The Senate version of the NASA Authorization Bill has been passed by the House!

The bill, approved late Wednesday, gives NASA clearer ‘marching orders’ (as Rick Tumlinson put it on the Huffington Post) going forward, and allows Congress its own modifications on (while finalizing) Obama’s new direction for the space program.

A breakdown:

It’s good to see a bill passed that doesn’t dramatically alter Obama’s vision, and it is nice to see that new heavy lift moved up four years—even if it potentially is reusing parts of the Shuttle and Ares systems. With the new plan basically bypassing the Moon (as private companies lodge it in their sights), moving up the rocket four years could mean any NASA involvement on (or benefit from) the Moon could happen that much sooner.

For great in-depth coverage of the lead-up and reactions to the bill, check out Space Politics and NASA Watch :)

It's Official: Constellation Cancelled, No NASA Return to Moon; Shift Towards Private Space February 1, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, SpaceX, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Vision for Space Exploration , 7comments

With the release of its 2011 budget proposal, the Obama administration has concurrently announced, in no uncertain terms, that the current NASA Constellation program is cancelled.

“The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration…” -Official White House website, 2011 Budget fact Sheet

The fact sheet goes on to explain the new direction focusing on private space, including some significant funds:

“Entire new industries”, “catalyzing new businesses” and jobs…As hinted at in his campaign space plan (and by his initial Commerce Secretary appointment of NM Gov. Bill Richardson), Obama clearly believes in the economic potential of an industry-focused NASA. Note that the ISS contract mentioned there is already awardedSpaceX just needs to prove its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are human-ready for the option to vest, and both Orbital and SpaceX are already the new ISS cargo suppliers.

What does this mean for moon colonization? It means that NASA itself won’t be landing anyone on the moon.

There is a lot of ‘doom and gloom’ out there about how there won’t be humans on the Moon anytime soon, which is a false assertion—the Chinese program is full-steam-ahead, and if private space can be trusted with the ISS contracts at this early stage, then they’re on a course to be putting men on the Moon before long; perhaps even before NASA would have landed men anyways.

Americans will be on the Moon again soon; they’ll just have to hitch a ride with a company or an international effort to get there. And the U.S. will remain a major lunar player, with many private companies and Google Lunar X PRIZE efforts being American.

The fact sheet doesn’t say anything about new human exploration options, such as the ‘Flexible Path‘ suggested by the Augustine panel, so word remains to be seen regarding that, and whether NASA will shift to a manned asteroid mission or mission to Mars’ moons.

Widespread Reports: No Funding for NASA Return to Moon; $6 Billion for Private Space January 27, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, NASA, Obama, private sector , 1 comment so far

Ahead of Obama’s 2011 budget proposal in February (which officials have said will be where he reveals his direction for NASA), widespread reports have surfaced confirming that there will not be funding for NASA’s plans to return to the moon, effectively ending any attempt by NASA to establish a lunar base without international or private cooperation.

At the same time, there’s word that Obama has authorized that NASA’s budget actually be increased over the next few years, namely with a $6 billion project to spur the development of commercial rockets (e.g., SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 and Lockheed/Boeing‘s Atlas V and  Delta IV):

“We do believe it is time for American companies to come into this program. The investment in that will be $6 billion over five years. This is serious, serious investment that we believe will reduce that gap [in human spaceflight] from what it would have been with the program of record between shuttle retirement and the Ares I and Orion [capsule] coming on line.”- An unspecified administration official;Obama officials: NASA to get $6 billion for commercial rockets“, Orlando Sentinel

This was foreshadowed back in Obama’s 2008 campaign space plan—where he planned to “amplify NASA’s reach” with the private sector.

With the Ares 1 rocket facing cancellation and Constellation seeing severe delays as a result of that, private space may have managed to land a man on the Moon long before NASA got there, even with full budgeting. So I see this as acknowledgement of that inevitability–and of the economic benefit of taking all those billions and directing them back into the economy (via private space), while effectively accomplishing the same thing.

Report: Obama Decides on $1 Billion NASA Budget Boost and New Heavy-Lift Launcher? December 20, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Augustine Panel, Base Race, Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee , add a comment

A report by the blog ScienceInsider quotes sources as saying that Obama last week decided, in a meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, on his immediate direction for NASA: an additional $1 Billion in budget, a new heavy lift launcher to replace the Ares 1, and potentially a shift in mission destinations away from the Moon (!).

The Augustine Report (PDF) recommended as an option a manned flight to an asteroid instead of the Moon—as soon as the early 2020s–an option that, according to this new ScienceInsider report, has the White House “more intrigued” than a return to the Moon (which, with a scrapping of the Ares 1 rocket, would be delayed until at least the mid 2020s…much later than the potential manned asteroid landing, or even a landing on a moon of Mars).

With the Moon well within the sights of private space and numerous other nations, it would be perhaps redundant for NASA to have it’s own full-fledged lunar program. NASA skipping the moon, then, is not a death knell to moon colonization, and could be a shrewd choice with many major private space firms (SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, etc.) being American anyways.

Check out the ScienceInsider blog’s report for the full details. An announcement reportedly could come as soon as this week and as late as February, so stay tuned…

NASA's LRO/LCROSS Missions Successfully Launched! June 19, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, LCROSS, Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, NASA , 1 comment so far

NASA’s twin lunar orbiter craft—the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)—were successfully launched on Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket.

This marks the first mission (well, missions) in Constellation to be launched, the beginning of a big new era for NASA (“America’s first step in a lasting return to the Moon”, as the launch video embedded below declares it.)

The LRO will aim it’s seven instruments (which I’ll be taking individual looks at here at Luna C/I) at the Moon to collect detailed information about its environment, in preparation for colonization (and potentially mining) efforts,;while the LCROSS is designed to use one of its rocket phases to create an impact in a deep-shadow crater, analyzing the material to see if there is water ice present there—a potentially “smashing success“.

Embedded below is a pretty spectacular video from NASA of the launch, from on board the rocket itself (check out the SpaceX Falcon 1 launch video for a similar, if even more astounding, view of a rapid departure from Earth) :

June 17th Human Space Flight Committee Meeting to Be Webcast June 16, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Augustine Panel, Constellation, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee , add a comment

The first meeting of the Human Space Flight (Augustine) panel reviewing Constellation will be webcast live, for those of us who can’t make it out to the event in D.C. The meeting will be held from 9am-5pm EST on June 17th (this Wednesday).

 To stay even further involved with the panel’s goings-on, be sure to take part in their many interactive features, including their neat question submittal w/ public voting system feature.

Check back here on Wednesday and Thursday for coverage of all the significant developments that come from the meeting :)

President Obama Initiates 90-Day Review Panel For Constellation May 10, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama , add a comment

Coinciding with his budget proposal last week, President Obama announced the creation of a 90-day review panel led by Norman Augustine  (pictured above) to look at NASA’s Constellation program, and any adjustments that could be made to its missions (for both cost and effectiveness).

Augustine (a former Lockheed-Martin President and CEO )  is a veteran of a number of space-related committees, including (as Space Politicsexcellent post notes) a March 2004 hearing of the House Science Committee on the then-freshly-minted Vision for Space Exploration:

“[I]t would be a grave mistake to try to pursue a space program “on the cheap”. To do so is in my opinion an invitation to disaster. There is a tendency in any “can-do” organization to believe that it can operate with almost any budget that is made available. The fact is that trying to do so is a mistake—particularly when safety is a major consideration.”-Norman Augustine, at the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration hearing (as reported by Space Politics)

Augustine is the only member of the panel so far, with the rest to be named soon. NASA Watch says that “A better choice to lead this review could not have been made“–check out and chime in on their forum on who else should join him, and things you would say to his panel, given the opportunity.

“We are planning to spend billions of dollars on the human space flight program and it’s wise to be sure we’re spending that the way we should…New information becomes available all the time. And similarly, we have a new administration and it would probably be imprudent on their part not to examine this major of a program to be sure such a long term undertaking is still on a course that makes sense to them.” -Norman Augustine, during his 5/8/09 teleconference (as reported by CNET.com)

Sounds like this is a ‘friendly’ review, if you will, and something that a lot of good could come out of. It could also give Obama more time to name his NASA administrator (see my theory on why he’s taking so long.)

Keep an eye here for updates on the additional panelists as they’re announced, and any info that comes along from this :)

Strife Between NASA's Griffin and Obama Transition Over Constellation? (News) December 12, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, Current News, NASA, Obama , add a comment

A report from the Orlando Sentinel describes problems that are arising between the Obama space transition team (headed by a former associate administrator of NASA, Lori Garver) and the current NASA administrator, Mike Griffin:

“In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.”
- “NASA has become a transition problem for Obama”, by Robert Block, Orlando Sentinel

It’s probably naive to assume that all government relations, especially in a transition where one’s legacy could be at stake (Griffin’s), are going to be peachy-keen and happy. High-level leaders are always going to have a certain amount of ego, and they’re always going to clash (the films “Thirteen Days” and “W.” demonstrate the White House Cabinet brand of this pretty well).

The article goes on to illustrate examples that suggest this strife is simply an example of that, and not indicative of actual problems with Constellation that the Obama team would have.

Obama has shown consistent support for Constellation, even getting involved with allowing the NASA purchase of Soyuz craft in the middle of the campaign (with help from Joe Biden), and the article from today mentions an idea from NASA that I think hits the nail on the head (and that I’ve talked about here before on my own): that the Obama administration “could take ownership of the [Constellation] program and ‘re-brand’ it as their own with minor tweaks.””

With all the bad news about, the Obama administraion’s going to need some good, inspirational PR, and the Constellation program could prove an excellent source for that.

And regardless, even if the Constellation program was (by some strange series of occurances) seriously delayed or cancelled, the probably more-relevant-anyways private sector will still be rolling along, and other countries are going to the Moon (and in my opinion, will win the ‘Base Race’ anyways; more motivation, with Apollo being ‘old hat’ here), so mankind’s integration and colonization of the Moon will go on, with or without NASA.

New Orion Craft Test: Abort Motor November 21, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Ares V, Constellation, NASA, Orion (craft), Youtube , add a comment

You know a test went well when it shot flames 100 feet into the air.

Especially when there was video of it:

That is the second (the first being back in April) test of the Orion craft‘s abort motor; the Orion being the successor to the Space Shuttle, and the craft that will get NASA astronauts back to the Moon (with the Altair serving as the lander).

Despite the spectacularly dangerous-looking results, the abort motor is actually a safety feature: it would direct the Orion craft away from the Ares rockets in the event of a launch malfunction.