CAPE CANAVERAL - A government watchdog report released Friday added to skepticism that NASA's Constellation program can develop its first post-shuttle rocket on time or on budget.
The analysis supports similar conclusions reached by a presidential panel asked this summer to review NASA's options for human spaceflight.
According to the Government Accountability Office:
- The Ares
I rocket and Orion
crew capsule are unlikely to be ready to fly astronauts to the
International Space Station on schedule by March 2015.
That would mean a longer gap in launches from Kennedy Space Center and fewer jobs, if the shuttle is retired as planned after six more flights.
- Constellation's eventual cost is unknown.
NASA has made progress but "will not be able to reliably estimate the time and money needed to execute the program" without resolving significant technical and design challenges, the report says.
Those challenges, it adds, "are not likely to be overcome in time to meet the 2015 date."
In a response, NASA said it maintains the 2015 goal for Ares I and is addressing all known technical problems.
Funding shortfalls and cost increases have limited the Constellation program's flexibility to address technical problems as it approaches a key design review in March, according to the GAO.
As a result, the agency is "still struggling to develop a solid business case" for implementing the program projected to cost more than $97 billion through 2020.
Unveiled in 2005, Constellation includes the development of the Ares I launcher, Orion crew capsule, Ares V heavy-lift rocket and Altair lunar lander.
The Obama administration's U.S. Review of Human Space Flight Committee, led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, also concluded that NASA budgets would not allow a return to the moon until well past the target date of 2020.
Any viable program to explore beyond low Earth orbit by the 2020s would require an extra $3 billion annually, the committee found.
The Constellation program has had some recent achievements, including the successful test firing of the Ares I first stage, a five-segment solid rocket motor.
At KSC, workers are preparing to launch the first Ares I test flight on Oct. 27.
- SPACE.com Video Show - NASA's Vision for Humans in Space
- Video - Back to the Moon with NASA's Constellation
- Video - NASA's Constellation Journey Begins: Part 1, Part 2
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