NASA'sfirst flight test of a next-generation rocket intended to replace the spaceshuttle is expected to slip another two months, to Oct. 31, officials saidTuesday.
Managers ofthe 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 thefuture of NASA's human spaceflight program issues recommendations to the Obamaadministration.
By next month, the reviewcommittee is expected to assess whether NASA's proposed Ares I rocketis the best option for returning crews to orbit after the space shuttle'sexpected retirement next year.
The targeted Halloweenlaunch of the Ares I-X flight test is tentative and must be approved by newNASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who has not yet been briefed on its status,officials said.
If processing work proceedswithout glitches and schedules can be accelerated, the launch could move up tomid-October, said George Diller, a NASA spokesman at Kennedy Space Center.
The $360 million testflight is the first of six planned before NASA hopes to launch astronautsatop an Ares I rocket in March 2015.
The rocket would launch acrew of four in an Apollo-style capsule called Orion, firstto the International Space Station and later to the moon.
Data from the Ares I-Xflight test is supposed to help the agency assess the design's safety andstability.
A four-segment solid rocketbooster like those used by the space shuttle will power the test rocket. Itwill also carry mock-ups of an additional first stage segment, the upper stage,an Orion crew capsule and launch abort system.
KSC workers last Fridaycompleted stacking of the first stage on a mobile launcher platform in the52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.
Ares I-X managers plan tomeet next Tuesday to decide when to begin stacking the upper stage, probably inearly August.
Modifications are ongoingto launch pad 39B .
Earlier this month, JonCowart, deputy Ares I-X mission manager, said that mid-September was arealistic target for the launch but that a slip to October was possible.
He attributed the delays to thechallenge of building a rocket for the first time.
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