GAO: Ares/Orion Overweight, Underpowered and Potentially Deadly

The General Accountability Office’s review of NASA’s Constellation lunar program is in and…things aren’t looking up at the moment. GAO examined technical and programmatic risks for the still-evolving Ares rocket and Orion spacecraft. It’s a preliminary progress report because the space agency is still in the process of defining the program.

“The challenges NASA is facing pose risks to the successful outcome of the projects. For example:

  • Both vehicles have a history of weight issues;
  • Excessive vibration during launch threatens system design;
  • Uncertainty about how flight characteristics will be impacted by a fifth segment added to the Ares I launch vehicle;
  • Ares I upper stage essentially requires development of a new engine;
  • No industry capability currently exists for producing the kind of heat shields that the Orion will need for protecting the crew exploration vehicle when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere; and
  • Existing test facilities are insufficient for testing Ares I’s new engine, for replicating the engine’s vibration and acoustic environment, and for testing the thermal protection system for the Orion vehicle.

“All these unknowns, as well as others, leave NASA in the position of being unable to provide firm cost estimates for the projects at this point. Meanwhile, tight deadlines are putting additional pressure on both the Ares I and Orion projects. Future requirements changes raise risks that both projects could experience cost and schedule problems.”

You can read the full report here.