Friday, January 23, 2009

NASA Defers Decision On Hubble, Ares 1X

NASA is deferring until mid-March a decision that will delay either a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission or the first test flight in the Ares 1 rocket development program.

Here's the situation:

The Ares 1X rocket is scheduled to blast off July 11 from launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. But NASA has been keeping that complex "shuttle-ready" so a rescue mission could be launched from it if shuttle Atlantis sustains critical damage during a fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

In order to make the July 11 launch date for the Ares 1X test flight, NASA would have to turn over pad 39B for modifications at least three months in advance. Atlantis and seven astronauts now are scheduled to blast off May 12 on the Hubble servicing flight.

NASA consequently is examining the possibility of using a single pad -- 39A -- to launch both the Hubble servicing mission and, if required, a rescue flight. Doing so would free up pad 39B for the Ares 1X test flight in July, but it would have a significant ripple effect.

Launch of Atlantis and the Hubble servicing crew would slip to May 26 so the rescue shuttle -- Endeavour -- could be hauled out to launch pad 39A to fuel its Orbital Manuevering System and Reaction Control System as well as the Hydraulic Power Units on its two solid rocket boosters.

Then Endeavour would be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where it would remaining ready to roll out for a rescue flight. The early hypergolic servicing would enable NASA to roll Endeavour out to pad 39A and then launch on the rescue mission after an abbreviated countdown.

The ability to launch within about a week of the Hubble launch is critical because the Atlantis crew would not be able to seek safe haven on the International Space Station. The Hubble observatory is in an entirely different orbit and Atlantis would not have the propulsive power to fly to the outpost in an emergency.

A decision to proceed with single-pad operations for the Hubble mission and a potential rescue flight also would trigger a one-month slip in each of seven remaining International Space Station assembly and outfitting flights.

The last of those now is scheduled to fly in late May 2010. NASA is operating under a presidential directive to finish station assembly and retire the shuttle fleet by Sept. 30, 2010. The money spent on the shuttle program then would be funneled into the development of the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets as well as the Orion spacecraft and Altair Lunar Surface Access Module.

Senior NASA officials gathered late Thursday for a status briefing on preparations for the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission as well as the Ares 1X test flight. Preparations for a July 11 launch for the $360 million test flight are running about a month behind schedule while NASA remains on track for the May 12 Hubble launch.

NASA officials will meet in mid-March to reassess the situation and determine a course of action.

Meanwhile, preparations for the planned Feb. 12 launch of Discovery on a mission to deliver the final central truss segment to the station are proceeding without major problems, and an executive-level flight readiness review will be held Feb. 3 to firm up that date.

Click to enlarge the NASA image of shuttle Discovery on launch pad 39A prior to the launch last February of the STS-122 mission to deliver the European Columbus science laboratory to the International Space Station.


Mark Lopa said...

I don't see what the big deal is in delaying the Area 1X test flight three months. The whole program is behind schedule and is going to slip more and more as the years go by, so why risk a quick countdown and launch of Endeavour using a single pad. Right now, our responsibility is to the shuttle and the saftey of the crews. Use the two pads and launch the 1X test in the fall.

spacefreak said...

I agree Mark.

Anonymous said...

A lot of things could delay a rescue mission. I can't see that only having one launch pad as a problem. Only one is available for the actual launch anyway.
I wonder if NASA is waiting to find out where it stands before deciding.
There's little point in the Ares 1X launch if President Obama cancels the Ares program.

Todd Halvorson said...

I think NASA feels a bit of pressure to get the Ares 1X mission flown because of all the noise surrounding the contractor-manufactured Ares 1-EELV debate. There has been so much talk about the so-called thrust oscillation problem with Ares 1, and whether that long skinny single stick will even fly, and there's a new administration in the White House that is facing decisions on whether to stay or alter the course that NASA is on right now. So I think NASA desperately wants to get Ares 1X off the ground to prove the detractors wrong. There definitely seems to be a bit of schedule pressure, especially since the 1X mission needs to be squeezed in between a tightly scheduled series of ISS assembly missions -- flights that are supposed to be flown by Sept. 30, 2010. It will be interesting to see how this all falls out....

Anonymous said...

Just an aside from along time ago Range Rat could we drop the words *blast off* and just say *launch*. As I recall that was what Shorty Rogers and other early personnel called it. Thanks

Anonymous said...

The technology risk of Ares is significant. Look what happened to the billion dollar X-33 program. One crack in the composite tank and it ended. If 1-X jury rigged flight messes up, does it matter? If it doesn't, skip 1-X and go directly to 1-Y. Don't interfere with shuttle operations as that inserts unknown risks to that program. Pay the price to fly shuttle until there is a successful manned Ares launch. Build a high reliability 300,000 pound-to-orbit shuttle cargo version for a fraction of the risky Ares 5. In six Shuttle C launches an entire L-5 station could be assembled. In six more launches an entire Lunar colony coulde be assembled in lunar orbit, and landed. In ten years we could have 100 people living on the moon, all AMERICAN! That would be worth a lot! Then we return a ton of helium-3, operate a dozen fusion reactors, and tell the Arabs what to do with their petroleum products. Fly to asterroid Apophis, build mass driver, and begin pushing away from Earth collision in 2030. Mine it for supplies for Mars mission and lunar colonies. WE can do this. We should have done it 15 years ago!!!

Mark Lopa said...

I didn't even consider that Obama might cancel the whole Ares program. Is that really possible? I'm completely expecting him to extend the shuttle program with more funds so there will be a brief gap between the last STS flight and the first manned Ares flight. I think think this is responsible thing to do. Tax dollars have spent all this money to build the ISS, and we're going to rely on Russia to fly us there for at least five years? No way. And what if relations with Russia go bad? They could shut us out of the ISS. I also think that ths Ares schedule is going to slip more, so we could be out of luck for six, seven...who knows how many years.

Out focus should remain on the shuttle. That's my opinion.

Mark Lopa said...

Todd, I don't like to read "schedule pressure" pressure, that's for sure. All I think of then is Challenger.


Todd Halvorson said...

Roger that on schedule pressure, Mark. I can't write the words "schedule pressure" without thinking of Challenger and without thinking of that Feb. 19, 2004 "Core Complete" Screen Saver on NASA computers before the Columbia accident. That's why I've always hated the Sept. 30, 2010 line-in-the-sand for ISS assembly complete. Talk about schedule pressure!

Mark Lopa said...

Let me preface this by saying I'm a Bush supporter. However, I think it was pure arrogance for him to make that deadline. Schedule pressure contributed to Challenger. How can we be so sure that if NASA hadn't been trying to ram 10 missions in 16 months down everyone throats that somehow, Columbia could have been avoided? We'll never know. Now we have another deadline, and we're seeing the results of that pressure with something that seems innocent...whether to use two pads or one for Atlantis and Endeavour. Three strikes and we're out for a long time. I realy don't think I'm over reacting here. I can't believe NASA again is not seeing what we can easily see (don't launch in cold weather, take the damned pictures, and now this).

Charles Boyer said...

It seems to me that Mark Lopa and others are right when they point out that schedule pressure has led to all three major manned space flight tragedies.

I even include the AS-204 (Apollo 1) tragedy in the same group as Challenger and Columbia, because there most definitely was a great deal of schedule pressure in 1967 to get the Apollo system operational. Also, in each case, overconfidence bordering on arrogance led to tragedy.

It seems like NASA would be once again mixing those deadly elements together again: imagine a mortally wounded Orbiter circling the globe, with the only hope of rescue being a launch of the rescue bird in the VAB. It would be rolled out, and every shortcut taken to get the marooned astronauts back home. We could easily end up with TWO damaged orbiters and precious little hope of saving them.

It could happen. It doesn't need to. Delay The Stick's Dog-and-pony show (and we all know that's all it is) and follow the script for the HST mission.