NASA Postpones Decision On Hubble Standby Shuttle
An artist's concept of Ares I-X launch.
Credit: NASA

NASA's space operations chief has delayed until March a decision on whether a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope will tie up one or both space shuttle launch pads, a decision that could impact the scheduled July test flight for the Ares I-X launch vehicle.

For now, the Ares I-X flight, a suborbital test of the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle NASA is building to launch the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle starting in 2015, remains on schedule for a July launch, Jeff Hanley, Constellation program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston said Jan. 23. Ares I-X program managers previously said they would need to know by February when one of the shuttle launch pads would be turned over to them so they could begin three or four months of modifications necessary for the Ares I-X launch.

Both launch pads currently are reserved for the May repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope: one for the shuttle going to Hubble and the other to launch a second shuttle on a rescue mission if needed. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said he would not decide until March whether the mission could be conducted using one launch pad. At issue is whether the standby shuttle could be moved to the launch pad and lift off soon enough to rescue the Hubble repair crew. Safety requirements enacted following the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster call for keeping a second shuttle on standby to mount a rescue of any shuttle crew are bound for a destination other than the international space station.  

While NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate continues to deliberate over releasing the second pad to Ares I-X prior to the Hubble mission, NASA is continuing to make some early pad modifications that would not preclude a space shuttle launch, Hanley said.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., announced Jan. 22 that it was ready to ship prototypes of Orion and its launch abort system to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the rest of the Ares I-X vehicle.

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