The Constellation Program is cancelled – isn’t it? A look at many of the arrangements, agreements and announcements that NASA has made recently seem to suggest otherwise. A review of the key elements of the Constellation Program, along with projects that NASA is currently either involved in – or working on – shows that Constellation might not be so dead after all.
- Ares-1 – This rocket is essentially a five segment solid rocket booster (SRB) that the space shuttle used (the space shuttle launched using two four-segment SRBs). The Ares-1 would have been the vehicle that sent astronauts into space.
- Ares-V – This massive rocket was comprised of two SRBs, five RS-68 engines and would have been used to send the Altair lunar lander into space.
- Orion – The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) spacecraft that was to replace the space shuttle was initially set to be cancelled by the Obama White House, then it was to be developed as a stripped-down lifeboat for the International Space Station. It was mostly restored under the cumbersome moniker of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – that is before a final change occurred – it got its old name back and is now known as the Orion MPCV.
- Altair – This lunar lander, the 21st Century version of the Apollo Lunar Module has yet to be resurrected and (to date) remains cancelled.
- The Lunar Electric Rover – Still under development but renamed, due to the SEV having its capabilities and potential uses expanded.
Now let’s take a look at some of what NASA of the announcements that NASA has recently made concerning what the new heavy-lift Space Launch System will look like as well as other agreements that the space agency has signed into.
- Liberty – If one takes a good look at this rocket system produced by Alliant Techsystems and their European partner EADS Astrium – it is extremely similar to the Ares-1 rocket. The primary difference is that the upper stage is produced by EADS instead of Boeing (the Ares-1 upper stage manufacturer). This is a good thing however, ATK has listened to what the current administration has said regarding international partnerships and has shown that they can adapt. Also Liberty is a more versatile design as it could be capable of not only launching Orion, but a number of other man-rated spacecraft as well.
- Space Launch System – Many who watched and listened to NASA’s recent unveiling of what SLS would look like – were left wondering how much difference a paint job really makes. Anyone with a copy of Apogee Books; Project Constellation: Moon, Mars & Beyond can turn to page 24 and see practically the exact same thing that NASA had insiders waiting with breathless anticipation to see. Given that the book in question was produced four years ago and that it is not currently set to launch until 2017 one has to wonder how all of the politically induced stops and starts impacted the Ares-V/SLS development.
- Orion MPCV – as mentioned above – Orion CEV is now Orion MPCV.
- Lunar Electric Rover – Now the SEV.
So, essentially, it is looking more and more like the program that so many tried to kill – is surviving. With the inclusion of small private firms NASA actually does stand a chance to have its infrastructure continue to be revitalized.
So what was lost? Well outside of Altair – NASA lost the most vital thing of all – direction. The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) with its directive to produce a successive space exploration initiative, where we would expand out into the solar system one step at a time, where at each step we would build a permanent base, thus providing a highway to the solar system – has been lost.
Sure NASA still talks about going beyond LEO, to Lagrangian Points, to an asteroid. But if done incorrectly and without a blueprint, an established beachhead on other worlds that will build an ever-expanding foundation – we are looking at another Apollo – a brief shiny moment and then decades locked into LEO. So while the fact that Constellation doesn’t appear to be dead, it is a pyrrhic victory at best without the VSE.Missions » ISS » COTS » Missions » ISS »