NASA Faces Rocket Test Delays for New Spaceship

NASA Faces Rocket Test Delays for New Spaceship
An artist's rendition of a an Ares I rocket at Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The pad, previously used for Apollo and shuttle launches, will be modified to support future launches of Ares and Orion spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA.)

NASA is expectingdelays for the first tests of the rocket that will replace its aging spaceshuttles after they retire in 2010, agency officials said Thursday.

Anticipateddelays for NASA?s fall shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope may pushback the first test of the agency?s newAres I rocket next year by up to a month since both flights use the same launchpad and other material, said Jeff Hanley, the agency?s Constellation programmanager.

NASAinitially planned to launch a test version of its two-stage Ares I rocketaround April 15, 2009, but the vital flight may now slip to late May of that year in aripple of delays related to the Hubbleservicing mission.

?We?ll be usingone of the shuttle launch platforms, and the handover of that is modulated byhow soon the shuttle program can get the Hubble mission successfully launched,? Hanley told reporters. NASA is still on target, however, to begin the first manned flights of Orion spacecraft atop their Ares I boosters by no later than March 2015, he added.

The fall Hubblemission and the 2009 Ares I-X test will use the same seaside launch pad at NASA?sKennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The space shuttle Atlantis isexpected to launch toward Hubble in late September or early October of this yearfrom Pad 39A, but a second shuttle will also be prepared at Pad 39B ? thelaunch site for Ares I-X ? to serve as a rescue vehicle in an emergency.

NASAinitially hoped to launch the Hubble mission in late August, but fuel tankdelivery delays forced the agency to shuffle its 2008 shuttle flight schedule. Earlierthis month, shuttle program manager John Shannon said the readjustment woulddelay the Hubble flight to early October at the latest.

?We?relooking at what can be done to absorb any scheduled slip in the handover ofshuttle assets, specifically the mobile launcher, to keep that from impactingour launch date next year,? Hanley said.

Meanwhile,NASA is also facing delays with the first test of the launch abort escapesystem designed to rip an Orion crew capsule free of its Ares I booster in theevent of an emergency during liftoff.

The firsttest, Pad Abort-1, was initially targeted for Sept. 23 of this year at theWhite Sands Space Harbor in White Sands, N.M. But hardware delivery delays promptedNASA to reschedule the test for Dec. 11.

Otherchallenges also remain for NASA?s Orion spacecraft, including the ongoing effortto trim down the vehicle?s weight, said Orion project manager Mark Geyer.

?We?ll continueto be vigilant and looking at ways to scrub mass,? Geyer said.

The debate onwhether to planfor Orion landings on firm ground or in the water is leaning toward a nominalwater return, with engineers preserving the option for a land landing if required,Hanley added.

NASA?sOrion spacecraft and their Ares I boosters are designed to ferry astronauts tothe International Space Station (ISS) once the agency?s three remaining shuttlesretire in 2010. While the agency is targeting March 2015 for its firstoperational manned launch, Ares and Orion engineers hope to ready theirvehicles in time to begin crewed operations by September 2013.

Aheavy-lift Ares V rocket is also under development to support NASA?s plan tosend manned Orion spacecraft and their Altairlunar landers to the moon by 2020.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.