Washington: NASA administrator Mike Griffin informed a US Senate panel last week that development of the Orion crew spacecraft and the Ares launch vehicle, expected to replace the space agency's aging three-shuttle fleet, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, will be delayed by four to six months. The three shuttles are due to retire in 2010.
The first operational flight of these new spacecraft will now be pushed the into 2015 because of the delay, a bit later than the trageted launch year of 2014. Acording to Griffin, the delay was unavoidable given the fact that the NASA's 2007 space exploration programme has been denied around $500 million, of the more than $900 million that it was seeking by way of increased budgetary allocation.
NASA's Orion spacecraft is a capsule-based design, which along with the Ares, is intended to replace its long serving shuttle fleet. The shuttles will retire in 2010 once construction of the International Space Station (ISS) is complete.
The Orion spacecraft, to be built by Lockheed Martin, will be launched atop the Ares rockets. A large booster, the Ares series would also be used for unmanned cargo and hardware launches. Together they are expected to launch astronaut crews to the ISS, as well as teams to the moon, under NASA's vision of resuming moon landings by 2020.
Given the setback in the planned induction of these spacecraft, NASA will now have to rely on current agreements with ISS partners for crew and cargo flights. It may also have to look at the possibility of purchasing commercial spaceflight services under its Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) program.