NASA’s need to delay the launch of the next Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission from late August to early October has caused an identical slip for the Ares 1-X test flight planned for next spring. Ares 1-X, a four-segment solid-rocket booster fitted with a dummy fifth segment and simulated upper stage, had been slated to launch April 15, 2009, from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39B.


But until
Atlantis returns from an 11-day mission to refurbish Hubble,
Endeavour must remain

on Pad 39B, poised to conduct
a rescue mission should the Atlantis crew find itself stranded in space in a crippled orbiter.


NASA Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley said pad modifications and other preparations needed for the Ares 1-X launch will be held up until the shuttle program transfers Pad 39B and other assets to Constellation following the Hubble mission.


“Right now, the first-blush impact assessment suggests a day-for-day slip,” Hanley told reporters during a May 15 teleconference.


NASA announced in early May that the Hubble mission would be delayed four to five weeks because manufacturing of space shuttle external tanks that incorporate all of the changes made in the wake of the 2003 Columbia accident is taking longer than expected. A planned mid-October mission to the international space station is expected to slip to mid-November.

While the Ares team might be able to find a way to make up some of the lost time, Hanley said the test flight
likely would be delayed to late May. The $320 million Ares 1-X flight is the most visible early hardware test in NASA’s multibillion dollar effort to field its first human space transportation system since the space shuttle.


The test is expected to yield valuable data about the vehicle’s aerodynamic performance and inject a higher degree of fidelity into computer simulations that are essential to the design and development of Ares 1 and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

“We are anchoring computer models that we will then use to test the system,” Hanley said. “Because we are not a hardware-rich program, we are doing a lot of testing in the computer.”


NASA also announced during the May 15 teleconference that it decided over the winter to delay an Orion launch pad abort test from September to December to give Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems more time to complete the necessary hardware.


The test, due to take place at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, is intended to show that
Orion’s Launch Abort System can whisk the crew capsule up and away from Ares 1 should the rocket experience a failure while still on the launch pad. An ascent abort test is planned for 2009 followed by a second pad abort test in 2010.


The Orion team
also is being given additional time to prepare for a preliminary design review that had been planned for September. Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager, told reporters during the teleconference that delaying the review until November would give his team the time it needs to further analyze the impacts of design changes made since last fall in an effort to shed some weight from the spacecraft. Geyer said the delay is not about finding more weight savings but “making sure we got the analysis right.”

Ares 1’s preliminary design review, meanwhile, remains on track for September, according to Ares Program Manager Steve Cooke. Hanley said the delays would not keep NASA from meeting its commitment to field Orion and Ares by March 2015.

Comments: bberger@space.com