August 20, 2010

Constellation Spacecraft Development Continues

Construction on a spacecraft initially designed to be part of the Constellation project continues, despite the cancellation of the proposed return to the moon by President Barack Obama, according to reports by the astronomy website Space.com.

The Orion space capsule and the Ares rocket are still in development at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), notes Senior Writer Clara Moskowitz--even though potential uses for them are uncertain at best, considering the program that would have allowed Americans to return to the lunar surface has essentially been shelved as part of the space agency's proposed 2011 budget.

"The outlook for Constellation's fledgling rocket and capsule spacecraft is not clear," the Space.com reporter said in a Thursday evening article. "Obama did recommend continuing development of Orion--but to be used only as an escape ship that could carry astronauts home from the International Space Station in an emergency."

"A NASA authorization bill recently passed by the Senate would direct the space agency to continue developing Orion and to fast-track plans for heavy-lift rockets and vehicles required for space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. A different bill under consideration in the House also seeks to revive some Constellation plans, including Orion and the Ares rockets," she added.

Orion is a 21,000-pound capsule that is being developed by Lockheed Martin, and could carry a crew of four-to-six astronauts. A prototype of the Ares I rocket, a proposed next-generation booster, was successfully launched in October 2009.

The Obama administration has proposed to completely shelve the project, but some lawmakers are battling to revive the development of both the Ares I and the Ares V. Rocket manufacturer Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is planning another test flight for August 31.

In April, officials from NASA confirmed plans to cancel the Constellation project and shutter the space shuttle program in favor of new aeronautical goals, including the development of satellites to monitor global climate and a long-term mission plan to reach Mars.

According to a fact sheet released by NASA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the time, "An independent panel found that Constellation was years behind schedule and would require large budget increases to land even a handful of astronauts back on the Moon before 2030."


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