back to article Obama banks on NASA's big launcher

US President Barack Obama will ask Congress to jettison NASA's plans to develop its next-generation Ares I crew launch vehicle and increase funds for the "simpler" Ares V heavy lift rocket to replace the space shuttle fleet. The revised direction for US human space flight was decided Wednesday at a White House meeting with …


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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Whatever happened to Bush Jr's. Space Program?

    ....and where are my nuclear-powered, fast, solar-system capable rockets? What are these guys doing, still talking about chemical-propelled launchers in 2010?? Oh yeah, I know, there is a permanent war going on.

    And 2018? The way thinsg are going, there won't be much US left by then.

    1. iMlite
      Thumb Up

      Nuclear Rockets - Keep Up!

      Russia has restarted development of this tech saying the US system is no longer reliable for long term space exploration planning.


      1. Greg J Preece

        Typical Mail

        I love how they put "NUCLEAR" in capitals, like it's "OMGZORG those crayzee Russians are gonna nuke space!" Can't wait for the "they'll fire them at us" or "they're gonna destroy the Earth!" comments from their readers.

      2. gimbal

        I see - and we all know about Russia's stellar Nuclear track record...

        Nothing like a meltdown at 10,000 feet to gain a nation some notoriety....

  2. Gary F

    Shuttle life to be extended

    I wouldn't be surprised if NASA kept 2 shuttles operational beyond 2010 because they sure don't have anything else that can dock with the IIS or take anyone into space for that matter.

    They'll refit the shuttles or go to a high maintenance plan to keep these birds flying. Otherwise it's just plain embarassing for them not to have this capability for several years. The Americans grounded? Naaa, their pride wouldn't allow that.

    1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

      See that "I" in "ISS"?

      It's there for a reason.

      ESA already has the capability to send goods to the ISS using its Jules Verne module and its own giant firework named Arianne V. (Why can't NASA just buy some of these? Why reinvent the wheel each time? It'd certainly save some cash.)

      The Jules Verne module is already being considered for modification to allow astronauts to fly in them. NASA would be better off throwing some money at this project to begin with.

      In the meantime, we really need to get the hell away from chemical reaction engines. THAT is where NASA's "New Launcher Tech." R&D money should go over the medium term. There's no way we can unlock space properly if we stick with rockets.

      1. Ben Holmes

        I see the I and raise you an SS

        "(Why can't NASA just buy some of these? Why reinvent the wheel each time? It'd certainly save some cash.)"

        Politics. NASA and its related contracts bring in a sizeable chunk of money / employment to the economies of certain states in the US (Maybe someone Stateside could verify which ones, I'm not sure off the top of my head - Alabama springs to mind).

        Can you seriously see old Johnny President getting away with sitting down one day and going 'Hmm, yes, we COULD build our own launchers, and pump money into our own economy...or we could by these fabulous European launchers that are proven many times over, but not yet man-rated).

        No. Didn't think so :-)

  3. Anonymous John


    Both NASA and the White House have denied that any decision has been made yet.

  4. jason 7

    Only one decent solution.

    Let's get Project Orion back on track!

    Could all be sorted in just one spectacular launch.

  5. Adrian Midgley 1

    1? 5?

    Did something get inverted there, which is being dropped and which is heavier the one with a 25 ton payload or the one with 188 ton payload?

  6. Asgard

    NASA is a problem. I wish they would move far beyond Ares...

    To me and to most people I guess, NASA is a place of science combined with that sense of wonder of learning about space, plus of course the hope and need to get the human race into space etc.. Therefore I truly want to see NASA thrive and do ever better. So every setback that NASA experiences saddens me and irritates me. Plus I find the whole Ares concept a setback, (with its basically ancient technology), when we should be moving towards something far more like HOTOL and Skylon etc..

    But I've come to realize there is (and has always been) another mostly hidden side to NASA, which is that its always been very much a part of the US military. For example NASA has a very important and central role in military spy and communications satellites. Ares looks a lot more suited to these goals, than as a futuristic experiment in trying to develop next generation reusable space vehicles. Plus the Shuttle also provides a service and upgrade capability to these military satellites. So I expect Gary F could be right about them holding onto the Shuttle for a little while longer.

    In some ways, the military goals are getting in the way of advancing the development of next generation reusable space vehicles. I expect this is at least partly due to the limited technical views of politicians pressuring NASA into focusing on military biased goals.

    So NASA is a problem. Without the military funding, we couldn't have such a big and well funded NASA because the politicians funding money would go into other military funding, because as always, politicians are always focused on power, in whatever form it comes in, including furthering military power (as always out of fear of what others may do against them, and some times their concerns are real and so not without reason, because the politicians opponent opposite numbers in other governments are thinking the same as them. They are all vying for power and playing their world chess games and so spying on what the other side is doing, is all part of that eternal game hence their need for spy satellites etc... (This political need to spy has been played for centuries with whatever technology was available at the time).

    So sadly it looks like we are stuck with a military funded and therefore military biased NASA. I wish the world could finally get over the endless political chess game, of both political fears of loosing power and political desires of ever more power. Its as if we are all being dragged along by the politicians fears and desires, when we should be instead focusing on scientific goals, to make this world so much better for all and to work as hard as we can to see and move beyond Earth.

    So it looks like we are stuck with projects like Ares. :(

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Destroy All Monsters

    "Whatever happened to Bush Jr's. Space Program"

    IIRC beyond his initial annoucnement speech pretty much nothing. He committed no political capital to getting any funding passed or even talking it up as something the US should be doing.

    The real problem with dumping Aries 1 is the SRB work seems to be key to keeping ATK (or whatever Morton Thiokol are called these days) in Salt Lake City Utah in business. There are concerns this would lead to a rise in the cost of other solid rockets they make (I think they do Trident and various others).*

    SpaceX reckon they could get the Dragon capsule to crew rated in 36 months (6 months of that being a safety float). Most of that time is designing the crew escape tower (It's a bit more complicated than it looks) which is likely to be a solid, and a fairly slow test cycle at the Cape for compatability with the existing infrastructure.

    Note that Lockheed studied crew return and man-rating for Biglow's space hotel concept using Atlas V with a Centaur 2nd stage. They concluded (unlike NASA) that man rating *was* possible with limited design changes which could be applied to *all* future Atlas vehicles, provided someone else did the capsule.

    No word on what Orbital could do to restore crew return with their entry on COTS. With crew transfer to ISS taken care of and a reasonable cargo capability work can move straight to Aries V.

    Note They were at the time of winning the Shuttle contract the *only* mfg of large solids which could not move them by barge as a *single* unit (Salt Lake city being land locked) and they ended up *bottom* of the NASA scoring panel's results for various other reasons, *however* the agency head at the time was a Mormon and asked they be re-scored. US taxpayers has been living with the results of that for roughly the last 35 years.

    Mine's the one with "Some of my best friends are Mormons" on the back.

  8. Robert E A Harvey

    ESA? cHINA

    Time for someone to step into the breach:

    Alien: 'cos they might offer to sub-contract

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Money and Stupidity

    I'm a little at a loss why the shuttle system needs to be retired. Certainly the ships are wearing out, but why not refitting or building replacements? Surely, as mentioned above, keeping 2 flying wouldn't be cost prohibitive? I remember when the shuttle came out they claimed there would be so much commercial and scientific use it would soon be a money maker.....but we know how that turned out. I've sometimes also wondered why a 2-man mini-shuttle couldn't do for the smaller payloads to send back and forth.

    We've needed a heavy lift rocket ever since the Saturn V was mothballed, and it looks like we're returning to the same situation of the late 1970's after Apollo ended and before the shuttle arrived. I remember hearing one scientist saying that if we had the same drive to reach Mars as we did for the Moon we could have been there by 1980. Instead we have the shuttle retiring and no suitable replacement, and not being able to do anything.

    We also have the same type of political leadership as the late 70's----although the supreme idiocy of the Obama camp makes Carter look like a conservative Republican. I wonder also about the future of NASA, and whether it won't get lost in a series of think-of-the-children and carbon credit cuts. Forget going to Mars, we'll soon have trouble just going to the store.

  10. Alan Brown Silver badge


    I wish - and not those pissant launchers NASA's pushing,

    100,000 tonnes to LEO or 30,000 tonnes to Mars and back sounds like a good way to kickstart that elevator...

    1. Gulfie
      Thumb Up

      Simpla answer. Risk.

      The simpla answer is that when the shuttle was conceived, a key statistic was the risk of losing a vehicle. This was deemed to be 1 loss per 200 launches. The second vehicle loss - Columbia in 2003 - occurred on flight 113, making the actual loss rate nearly four times what had been 'planned in' to the shuttle design.

      Evidently some risks were not properly factored, but either way what this meant is that it was far more risky to launch a shuttle than previously thought. Insurance premiums, already a significant percentage of the cost of the satellites being launched, went up (as did lots of running costs, to try to reduce the risks). If I remember correctly, the loss of Columbia was the beginning of the process that resulted in the fleet's lifespan being shortened, because the cost of launching safely was not sustainable.

      Of course the problem with all this is that NASA had cancelled its Shuttle replacement R&D programmes (VentureStar et al) at the beginning of 2001. The biggest disappointment in this whole affair is that NASA is reversing confidently into the future, returning to old technology (albeit with better design and materials). There is no re-usable SSTO vehicle in the workshop or even on the drawing board. The likes of Scaled Composites are doing much for 'privately' funded vehicle development but will take far longer to reach SSTO capable vehicles than NASA might do, even from a standing start today.

      I find NASA's fixation with returning to 'tried and tested' rather disappointing. As with the US X-series test pilots of the 60's astronauts know that to a degree they are guinea pigs, and that the risks of what they are doing are high. I don't think the crews who have died in the two accidents so far would have expected this to be the outcome. VentureStar was designed to be a crewless vehicle - not that it would never carry people as a 'cargo', just that there would be no need for an operating crew to be on board. Other X-series replacements for the shuttle were crewed.

      I think the right thing to do here is to restart the research cancelled at the beginning of the decade. To do so would move space travel forwards (not backwards) and move back towards developing more sustainable hardware for the long term.

    2. Bassey


      Simple answer to "why can't we keep/develop the shuttle fleet".

      Cost. It's too expensive to run so it needs to be replaced. It's FAR too expensive to maintain whilst developing a new launch system. For every year you add to the shuttle fleet, you're adding almost as much to the development time of the new system - adding to the time you need to maintain the shuttle fleet etc. Basically, your target keeps slipping out of reach and you are paying for two systems for far too long.

  11. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Informed comment

    1. nuclear-powered launchers are fantasy. Never going to happen. Zis is not nuts, zis is super-nuts. iMlite, might I suggest Aviation Leak is a better source than the Daily Mail?

    2. STS is dead, done and dusted in September 2010 or thereabouts. No chance of any refitting or refactoring; aerospace museums are already jostling for the opportunity to take one of the three remaining Orbiters (Endeavour, Atlantis and Discovery.) One's earmarked for the Smithsonian, of course.

    3. The "Ares V - lite" vehicle was... Ares I. There's no way an Ares V could be used for routine ISS crew-rotation missions, so that either goes to SpaceX' Dragon capsule (who's launched, the Falcon-9, is being readied for it's first launch right now:

    4. IMO, Ares V without I makes less sense than I without V. The only real justification for V (apart from willy-waving about having something competitive to Ariane 5 in lifting capacity) is for pushing large masses beyond LEO. Manned missions to the moon and Mars are often mentioned, because Dubya thought it would be a great soundbite and had a slim chance of making him the 21st century Kennedy. Alas, they completely omitted to provide the budget to do it with. Hence (partly) the horrible squeeze on unmanned probes. After MSL in 2011, there's nothing on the drawing-board until some vaguely hypothesised joint rovers project with ESA. (The latter's contrib is based on Exo-Mars, which began as an ambitious attempt to do a Mars rover in the MER class, then slipped, over-spent it's budget, slipped and slipped again. It smells doomed to me.)

    5. Off-topic: as one commentard to others, you lot do know that some of your tax goes to the European Space Agency, ESA, right? That they're currently operating flagship-class orbiters at Mars and Venus, the recently launched Planck and Kepler space telescopes, and assorted other current missions?

    No, I didn't think so.

  12. gimbal

    Snarkback: Well who needs space exploration anyway?

    I mean, we'd all be much more entertained with an exploration of Tiger Woods' little black book, right? Or to watch Paula Abdul dancing with Fred Schneider? So who *needs* to know what the surface of Mars looks like, after all? It's just such a groovy earth we have going on ... in our little commercially engineered bubble.

    Putting the snark aside, I just wish people would realize that space exploration leads to more opportunities for *skilled employment/labor/work* - from the vehicles to the instrumentation, not to forget the gurus who plot the launch and orbital trajectories, and all the support tasks and community economies. It's practical, not only scientific.

    As far as the selection of launch vehicle, then, I don't s'pose I gots much place to says what them NASA folks use to punch a schmart guy or a schmart missus into orbit.... Nice to hear about it, though, that NASA still exists.

  13. Robert Hill


    Does anyone know of the actual feasability of prolonging the Shuttle's service life? I thought they were each designed for many more lauches than they had made, and that it was mostly a budget issues and "worried about that foam stuff" issue. And, let's face it, if you are going to worry about the foam insulation (or any tile issues), well you _could_ just use them to destruction (a bit hard on the crew obviously). But most crews know that risks are involved, and most crew would fly a shuttle even if you told them 1 in 100 it fails and kills them (and some are on record for that).

    Preserving the Shuttles makes a lot of sense, and frankly is the last piece of truely impressive US hardware still flying...couple that with Ares V for heavy lift, and you still have a viable US space program.

    FLAME icon, just in case those tiles fail again...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Too Late

      The original manufacturing capability that produced shuttles is no longer in place. Replacement parts are limited and expensive.

      Plain and simple: NASA does not have the budget to operate Shuttle along with all of their other commitments. There has been no real commitment to NASA on the part of any administration since the 60s other than to politic around with NASA related jobs.

      1. Gulfie

        Flight Computers use the 8080 processor...

        ... and NASA went round buying up supplies some years ago when they realised that Intel weren't making them any more...

        Mine's the one with the (redundant) yellow Texas TTL catalogue in the pocket.

  14. JeffyPooh Silver badge

    I'm confused...

    Para 5: "The lighter Ares V rocket, however, ..."

    Is that "V" supposed to be a "I", or am I confused? The Ares V is the big one, right?

    1. Marcus Error


      Yes and no...

      Nasa proposed a combinaison of rockets in order to return to the Moon.

      Ares I was selected for low earth orbit (ISS servicing) with the Orion capsule.

      Ares V was selected for heavy lift (+100-ton).

      For a moon mission, both would be used :

      Ares I + Orion for passengers

      Ares V + hardware for the trip

      With a rendez-vous in low eath orbit.

      When it was found that such a scheme was too costly, then many people poposed cheapers alternatives : Ares IV, Direct, HLV, Ares V 'Light'

      When he said "The lighter Ares V", It is indeed Ares V 'Light' (a smaller derivative yet to be determined). Due to its lower capacity, you need two Ares V 'Light' for a moon return.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Hanger 18

    Why cant they just wheel out something from Hanger 18, or what ever Operation High-Jump found in the Antartic..... be it real the Alien mother ship, or Nazi UFOS

    Are we all sure that the 'New Labour' govenrment havent secretly started running NASA?

    Seems like a fundemental cockup on a scale I havent seen since the UK General Election of '97

    Paris, as it doesnt take her much effort to swallow a big one..

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    You can never have too much lift

    I'm quite sure NASA will find a use for all that "excess" lift capacity in the Aries V design. At least this time they seem to have sized the capsule to the *last* launcher left flying and not the first.(Saturn 1b).

    Of course that will compromise the doctrine that "Cargo must be kept seperate from crew" which was one of the results of the Challenger disaster report.

    Note IMHO it's a pretty stupid conclusion. It only makes sense if you trade reliability for launch cost.

    This was something NASA looked like considering at one time and IIRC Loral came up with a pretty impressive launcher design to capitalise on it. They were convinced they could do an H2/O2 pressure fed SSTO. It would do 1 tonne to LEO for later delivery to ISS with a 70-90% success rate.

    In most *other* transport systems you can trade delivery speed for cost. Faster and heavier usually racks it up (You want that 20 ft container sitting in your LA parking lot in London by this time tomorrow? How much you got?) but it costs *exactly* as much to deliver a roll of toiler paper to ISS as it does some new precision instruments (or that favourite butt of El Reg gags the urine re-cycle unit).

    Unless reliability is *truly* on the table and the odd explosion scattering 500 ready meals and 300 bog rolls across the Pacific is no longer viewed as a major disaster who cares what stuff is put on what NASA vehicle.

    Deep six Aries 1.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    So, size is what counts to Obama

    And Paris, because she's an expert on such things.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      I expected better

      The whole "my rocket is bigger than yours" thing is so JFK. What? Did you really think the whole Cuba thing was really about "missiles?"

  18. AlistairJ

    The ol' spacebus

    Would you volunteer to sit atop a mid '70s camper van strapped to an enormous fuel tank and two fireworks, then let them fire you off into space? Me neither. Not even if they fitted an mp3 player.

    I thought the point of Ares I was to make crew launches safe, while Ares V could focus on the big lift duties with a lower reliability requirement. The point being that human spaceflight is exciting and glamorous and space telescopes, robotic probes and remote sensing get valuable work done but just don't make the news.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ariane V

    "Why can't NASA just buy some of these? Why reinvent the wheel each time? It'd certainly save some cash."

    That would be the admission of defeat at the hands of those European Communists, ya know. Those who make that wicked marxist Airbus, too.

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