Obama Wants New Heavy Lift Launcher But Not Ares I or V, Says ScienceInsider

Obama Wants New Heavy Lift Launcher But Not Ares I or V, Says ScienceInsider

President Obama decided yesterday to “jettison” the Ares 1 launch vehicle, build a new heavy lift launch vehicle, but not Ares V, and focus human space exploration on the Moon, asteroids and the moons of Mars, according to Andrew Lawler of ScienceInsider. Lawler, a veteran and highly respected reporter on the space program for Science magazine, published a story on ScienceInsider this evening quoting unnamed officials on the outcome of the Obama-Bolden meeting yesterday. In short, according to Lawler:

  • “the new program would jettison Ares 1”;
  • a new heavy lift launch vehicle would be built “to take astronauts to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars” but it would not be Ares V: “the White House is convinced that scarce NASA funds would be better spent on a simpler heavy-lift vehicle that could be ready to fly as early as 2018”;
  • the “commercial sector would take over the job of getting supplies to the International space station,” although Lawler does not mention commercial crew transport, the topic of considerable debate this year; and
  • the President agreed to request “an additional $1 billion for 2011” for NASA to proceed with this program.

That may sound like a lot, but the Augustine committee stressed that the space shuttle is likely to need FY2011 funding — as much as $1.1 billion (page 111). Under the current budget plan, shuttle funding ends in FY2010. The committee concluded that NASA needs the flexibility to let launches slip into FY2011 if necessary to ensure safety. It also highlighted the desirability of continuing the International Space Station (ISS) through 2020, at a cost of an additional $13.7 billion (the fiscal years involved were not specified). Thus, a $1 billion increase in FY2011 could easily be consumed by legacy programs rather than spent on new activities.

Lawler says that it is not clear when a formal announcement will be made. Congress included language in the bill that provides FY2010 funding to NASA that the current Constellation program could not be changed, or a new program initiated, without congressional approval.

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