back to article US manned spaceflight after Shuttle could be delayed

The planned Ares I rocket - which will be the USA's only way of putting people into space after the Shuttle retires in 2010 - faces "significant threats" to its performance, according to an internal NASA document. The problems have already led to significant delays. Artist's pic of the Ares I first stage Fuel's solid: design …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge


    ".......modified version of the solid-fuelled boosters mounted either side of the Shuttle's external fuel tank...."

    Presumably for their proven reliability.

    Let me guess, the crew vehicle's thermal protection system comprises tiles glued on the outside?

  2. David Harper

    Bring back Wernher von Braun

    He might have been an ex-Nazi, but he knew how to build rockets, and he could do it to tight deadlines.

    Alas, the likes of von Braun and Sergei Korolev just don't seem to exist any longer.

  3. James Goddard
    Thumb Up

    re: Hindsight?

    In 120 launches (so 240 SRB's) there has never been a single failure of the SRB's that would cause a launch failure... Challenger failed due to a breach in the main tank, because of o-ring failure, not something that will be an issue for the new launch setup.

    So yes, they have very good proven reliability.

  4. AndyB

    Light the blue touchpaper.........

    Do they actually have anyone stupid enough to sit on top of that glorified firework?

  5. Martin Beckett Silver badge

    Bring back Wernher von Braun

    They do exists - it's just that.

    Homeland security don't let foreigners have contact with explosive so he isn't allowed within 10miles of an actual rocket.

    2 Nasa committees are trying to agree about how the 'Von' fits into their standard format for employee badges.

    Other comittees is deciding if the rocket must be wheelchair accessable and if the sun rather than the moon as a detination would look cooler on the website.

    The rockets must be launched from both North Dakota and Texas simultaneously to ensure support from senators on the funding committee.

  6. James

    @David Harper

    Alas not, today engineers are required to think about those niggly little problems like "survivability" and "where it comes down" that von Braun and Korolev could rely on having swept under the carpet.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Exploding totem poles

    There has to be a better way of getting into space than riding on the top of an exploding totem pole. But then too much money has been poured into rockets for any change to happen.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    Excuse me? The Saturn/Apollo that von Braun built was far safer than the Shuttle.

    The Apollo launch escape tower could yank you to safety at any time. While the Shuttle solids are burning, you're out of luck if anything bad happens, and afterwards you've got to hope it holds together under the aerodynamic loads of doing an RTLS abort. Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

    Plus liquid fueled systems tend to let you know they're having trouble, whereas solids just go BOOM without any warning. Plus liquids you can throttle back or shut down in the event of trouble, whereas once you light the solid, that's it.

    Not only was von Braun excellent technically, he could also MANAGE, and better than anyone at NASA since. One thing he did was tell the Apollo guys a 20% lower figure than the Saturn would actually lift, because he knew, just like in the story, the payload NEVER stays within weight limits.

  9. Rob

    If that picture's anything to go by...

    It may as well be sponsored by Marlborough or something.... and come in packs of 20.

  10. Luther Blissett

    They could still ask the Russians

    who developed a rocket motor so efficient that the Americans thought was impossible until they saw how much actual stuff the Russians were chucking into orbit. Of course, they might not want their astronauts or the CIA on board, but for freight the price per ton is very good. And for a small additional charge I expect they would even paint the Stars and Stripes (stand and salute, y'all now) on the side of it. (OK, on one side of it). There's still time. The new Polish government is beginning to blow a bit cold on those interceptor missiles. Either they need some more nice Fed bills hot of the presses to bring them back on side. Or the US will need another country.

  11. Silas Humphreys

    They've hit Pournelle's Law...

    "Everything takes longer and costs more."

  12. Anonymous John

    Early days yet.

    It won't be the first spacecraft where the first design had to lose weight. The Apollo lunar module ended up about a ton lighter by the time ii was built.

  13. lglethal Silver badge

    Working in aerospace

    I can tell you now from working in the aerospace industry that NO modern day project arrives on time or on budget!

    Why? Because in the old days, the accountants came to the engineers and asked how long it would take and cost, The engineers told them realistic figures, the accountants went away and everyone was happy.

    NOW, the accountants come to the engineers and say it has to be built by this date and this is what where going to quote as, ok? The engineers say (in order to keep there jobs) "Well if absolutely everything goes according to plans, with no surprises or cockup's, me might be able to meet that, but..." and the accountants walk away saying good enough. So when things go wrong (which happens in all engineering projects!) suddenly delays pop-up and costs expand. Big fucking surprise...

    Whether this rocket turns out to be any good or not will entirely depend on whether the accountants and politicians push for either "get it done as quickly and cheaply as possible" (which will lead to a shite design that will be regretted for the next 20 years) or "get it done to meet the requirements we set" (which will cost more and delay the introduction but will give you a top quality rocket).

    Can we guess which way the current short-sighted administration will go?


    Don't forget the rest of the world

    You have Europe's Ariane Rocket, China's Long March (the guys who invented rockets, incidentally), and let's not forget Japan's H1 and H2 (the H2, in "shuttle" formation having a heavier payload capacity). India looks hot to have their rocket as well. By the time the shuttle retires, the rocket landscape is gonna be pretty heated up (so to speak).

  15. Morely Dotes

    Three Laws of Engineering

    You can have it done:

    1. On time.

    2. On budget.

    3. It works.

    Pick any two.

    And lest we forget, the Shuttle is only *half* of the original reusable spaceship design. The lifter vehicle, which would have flow the shuttle to high altitude and suborbital speed, was cut - due to budget constraints. The SRBs and external fuel tank were tacked on so that the Shuttle would be something a bit more useful than a 100-ton cargo glider. It should be noted that both of the Shuttle losses were caused by factors related to the SRBs and the external fuel tank.

  16. Aubry Thonon

    Incorrect folklore

    "The Apollo launch escape tower could yank you to safety at any time".

    I saw a programme on Discovery where they interviewed a lot of the ground-crew (and some of the astronauts) involved in the moon landing. You wouldn't believe the number of things that went wrong during the mission which we never heard about (like the fact that the fuse-box holding the fuse to the lander's launch mechanism was broken after the landing... cold-sweat for a while while everyone scrambled about to find a way for two astronauts in bulky suits to repair a tiny fuse-box. Ended up with one of the crew holding the fuse down with one of the mission pens). I barked a laugh when they showed Nixon's prepared speech in case NASA couldn't come up with a way to get the poor sods off the moon before their air ran out.

    Anyway, as it turns out, the astronauts were *told* the escape tower would yank them to safety... but the reality is that the delay between something going wrong with the boosters and the tower activating was too long to be of any use (according to one of the flight engineers).

    A very interesting program which did indeed show the "we must get to the moon at any cost before the Russians beat us to it" attitude of the time...

  17. Finn
    Thumb Down

    Von Braun

    You don't get Von Brauns any more, due psychological tests. They tend to disqualify psychopaths.

    And I do mean it literally. Who else could utter: "Humanity has entered into space-age!", when first V-2 lifted from its launch-pad in front of admiring Nazi-officers?

    Von Braun would have worked with devil himself, used any means, sacraficed any number of people and cared nothing about costs as long as he got where he wanted to go: Space. Can't really see such person in charge of any western space-program these days.

  18. Robert Hill

    @James Goddard

    What??? The O-Ring failure you so glibly pass off was a failure of the O-Ring on the SRB, that THEN went on to breach the main tank and ignite the fuel in the main liquid tank. But let's be clear - the O-Ring failed on the SRB first, and even without the main tank explosion there is a VERY high likelihood that the launch would have failed due to the SRB fracturing and breaching at the O-Ring.

    I think the SRBs are one of the worst designs NASA has drummed up - solid rockets are great for weapons systems that can have a certain failure rate, but only liquid fuel rockets have the control and safety margins that I would want for a manned launch system. For proof of this, look at ANY competing manned orbital launch system - they are all liquid fueled.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SRB failures...

    ...or more accurately, o-ring falures; there were plenty of instances prior to Challenger:

    Although Challenger's destruction was brought about by an external tank breach, that breach occurred because of a problem with the SRB. A solid-fuel booster was never in the original shuttle design, for good reason.

    Would you get into a car - heck, even a plane - whose throttle was fully open, with no brakes, and knowing the only way you'll stop is when the fuel runs out?

  20. Paul

    O-rings, and old NASA vs current NASA

    The O-ring failure that destroyed Challenger happened because of unusually low air temperature (below the design tolerance of the o-ring) coupled with some sort of design flaw in the seal.

    Worse, engineers who understood the limitations which led to the disaster had tried to warn NASA administrators that a launch in such low temperatures would not be such a great idea. As usual the beancounters and PHBs won out over the engineers. The rest, as they say, is history.

    The seal blew out at ignition while the Shuttle was still on the launchpad, and then proceeded to burn through during ascent. IIRC, you can see a puff of smoke/debris blow out in footage of the launch. Whether anyone in Mission Control saw it too is a moot point, since they couldn't switch off the SRBs once they'd been ignited. As far as I'm concerned SRBs are entirely unsuited to manned space flight for just this reason.

    Comparing the Apollo program to Ares: Kennedy's moon shots were driven by national pride. There was no time for red tape, design by committee, or battling for funding. The goal was to beat the Soviets to the moon, and by the way they have a head start so get cracking!

    Today there's no real pride at stake and no drive to "beat someone" so budgets are tighter and the consequences of schedule slippage aren't as embarrassing. "Just another delayed engineering project" is hardly news, whereas "Soviets set first man on the moon" is a historical "what if?" and could have had much further reaching implications.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er - Finn?

    "Von Braun would have worked with devil himself, used any means, sacraficed any number of people and cared nothing about costs as long as he got where he wanted to go: Space. Can't really see such person in charge of any western space-program these days."

    When we've had a couple such in charge of the entire country over here for nearly 8 disastrous years now? Surely you jest.

    - bill

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