NASA's first flight test of a next-generation rocket intended to replace the space shuttle is expected to slip another two months, to Oct. 31, officials said Tuesday.
Managers of the Ares I-X flight test continue to analyze potential technical problems, including vibration levels during the flight, while renovating a Kennedy Space Center launch pad.
Once targeted for April, the critical test now will occur well after a blue-ribbon panel reviewing the future of NASA's human spaceflight program issues recommendations to the Obama administration.
By next month, the review committee is expected to assess whether NASA's proposed Ares I rocket is the best option for returning crews to orbit after the space shuttle's expected retirement next year.
The targeted Halloween launch of the Ares I-X flight test is tentative and must be approved by new NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who has not yet been briefed on its status, officials said.
If processing work proceeds without glitches and schedules can be accelerated, the launch could move up to mid-October, said George Diller, a NASA spokesman at Kennedy Space Center.
The $360 million test flight is the first of six planned before NASA hopes to launch astronauts atop an Ares I rocket in March 2015.
The rocket would launch a crew of four in an Apollo-style capsule called Orion, first to the International Space Station and later to the moon.
Data from the Ares I-X flight test is supposed to help the agency assess the design's safety and stability.
A four-segment solid rocket booster like those used by the space shuttle will power the test rocket. It will also carry mock-ups of an additional first stage segment, the upper stage, an Orion crew capsule and launch abort system.
KSC workers last Friday completed stacking of the first stage on a mobile launcher platform in the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.
Ares I-X managers plan to meet next Tuesday to decide when to begin stacking the upper stage, probably in early August.
Modifications are ongoing to launch pad 39B .
Earlier this month, Jon Cowart, deputy Ares I-X mission manager, said that mid-September was a realistic target for the launch but that a slip to October was possible.
He attributed the delays to the challenge of building a rocket for the first time.
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