NASA Might Change Hubble Mission Requirement to Keep Ares 1-X on Schedule

Hubble Repair Delay Puts Ares 1-X Rocket Test on Hold
Artist concept of Ares I-X launch. (Image credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON -NASA officials are weighing whether they need two space shuttle launch pads tosupport the upcoming Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission or if they canget by with one launch pad, a shift that would help keep the planned July testflight of the Ares 1-X launch vehicle on schedule.

Before NASAcan fly theAres 1-X, a prototype of the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle slated to debut in2015, the agency needs to make permanent modifications to one of the two spaceshuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. However, the Hubbleservicing mission as currently planned requires both pads to be available: onefrom which to launch the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the repair mission and oneto launch space shuttle Endeavour on a rescue mission, should that becomenecessary.

Currentplans call for having Atlantis and Endeavour occupy Pads 39-A and 39-B,respectively, during preparations for the planned May 12 launch of the STS-125Hubble servicing mission. But NASA officials now are considering launchingAtlantis and then rolling Endeavour out to Pad 39-A, said Jeff Hanley,Constellation program manager at NASA?s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Thiswould make Pad 39-B available to undergo the three to four months ofmodifications necessary to support the Ares 1-X flight, he told reporters in a Wednesdaypress briefing.

Constellationrefers to the hardware NASA needs to replacethe space shuttle, which is slated to retire in 2010, and returnastronauts to the Moon.

To hold tothe July 11 date for the Ares 1-X test flight, Hanley said he will need adecision by February as to whether the Hubble servicing mission will use justone launch pad.

BillGerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, and JohnShannon, space shuttle program manager, will decide whether Endeavour can beplaced in ready status quickly after Atlantis lifts off, an option NASAofficials previously said was not likely. The prospect of Ares 1-X beingdelayed again by the Hubble servicing mission prompted a second look at thatoption.

?I think Ican confidently say if pad B is required for STS-125 in May ?09 that we willnot launch Ares 1-X in July.? Hanley said. ?We have some very closecoordination going on with the shuttle team. We are trying to mitigate as muchas we can the overlap that might occur should the shuttle team not be able touse single pad operations.?

Ares 1-Xoriginally was scheduled to launch in April, but the flight was pushed to Julyafter problems with Hubble?s onboard computer system delayed the servicingmission to the 18-year-old observatory to February. NASA later delayedthe Hubble mission to May after a discovering glitch in one of Hubble?sspare parts.

While theConstellation team awaits a decision on the Ares 1-X test flight, it is workingon other equipment modifications needed to support the Ares program. The teaminstalled electronics on the shuttle?s mobile launcher platform, for example,even though that system has not been officially handed over to them, Hanleysaid.

?The teamhas been digging in and finding operations to do,? he said. ?We?re looking foropportunities every chance we can get.?

NASA hasembarked on an ambitious three-day roll out and launch schedule for Ares 1-X,which Hanley said he believes the team can meet, or at least come close tomeeting.

Meanwhile,NASA is working toward other Constellation milestones, including an Ares 1preliminary design review in the spring or early summer and release of thefirst phase of contracts for the heavy-lift Ares 5 launcher necessary tosupport the return of astronauts to the Moon. The final request for proposalswill be issued the week of Dec. 21, said Doug Cooke, deputy associateadministrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASAheadquarters in Washington.

NASA alsois seeking comment from industry on a draft request for proposals for the firstphase of contracts for the Altair lander, which will be launched by Ares 5 andcarry four astronauts to the lunar surface. That final request for proposals isexpected in January.

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Becky Ianotta is a former SpaceNews reporter covering space industry and policy news from 2008 to 2009. Becky earned a bachelor's degree in English/Journalism from the University of Miami. She spent five years as an editor with the Key West Citizen in Florida before joining the SpaceNews team. She later wrote for Air Force Times before taking her current position as communication director for Mother's Against Drunk Driving.