NASA is targeting Oct. 27 for the launch of Ares 1-X, a suborbital prototype of the rocket the agency has been developing since 2005 to loft the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle into space.

Senior NASA managers made the decision following a Sept. 21 meeting at agency headquarters in Washington, according to a NASA news release.

Ares 1-X consists of a four-segment solid-rocket booster as the main stage, a dummy upper stage and a mockup of Orion and its launch abort system.

If all goes as planned, Ares 1-X will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., between 8 a.m. and noon EDT and climb to nearly 40 kilometers before falling into the ocean. There is a second launch opportunity Oct. 28 should Ares 1-X miss its first window.

The future of Ares 1 was thrown into doubt when a White House-chartered panel led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine laid out several options for the future of U.S. human spaceflight that entailed canceling development of that shuttle-derived rocket and counting on commercial vehicles to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit.

But Augustine told the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee during a Sept. 16 hearing on his panel’s findings that he thinks NASA should go ahead with the Ares 1-X flight regardless of what becomes of the Ares 1 program.

“Were it my call, I’d fly it,” Augustine said. “We’ll gain technical knowledge that we’ve paid a great deal to get and we should get it.”

NASA said Sept. 22 that technicians at Kennedy have completed stacking the rocket on its mobile launch platform and are focusing on conducting a launch countdown simulation and performing final checks of the rocket’s systems.

A Flight Test Readiness Review is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...