Grim victory for rocket rebels

Grim victory for rocket rebels
Date:30 April 2010 Tags:,

Ending months of speculation, US President Barack Obama in February released his plan for Nasa’s future – a plan without a return to the Moon. The budget kills all spending on the Constellation programme, a Bush administration plan to build a craft called the Ares I to deliver supplies and staff to the International Space Station. According to the axed plan, a second heavy-launch system called Ares V would be used for longer trips to the Moon, asteroids or Mars.

Nasa critic Ross Tierney should have been overjoyed to hear the news of Constellation’s demise. Tierney teamed with moonlighting Nasa engineers to create an alternative they called Jupiter Direct. (PM covered the debate in March 2009.) The rival design reuses space shuttle parts to save development time and costs.

Tierney’s hopes that the administration would embrace the Direct plan were bolstered when he was invited to a meeting at Nasa to present the scheme to agency officials. But when the administration released its budget – two weeks after the January meeting – Direct was also seemingly rejected. The budget includes R23 billion of research funds to investigate a new heavy-lift rocket, so unless the US Congress or a big contractor adopts the Direct plan’s design, it will be as dead as the Ares vehicles it was meant to replace.