Ares: America's Rocket for Future Space Missions


How did NASA select the Ares family of rockets as America’s new space transportation system?

Since the 1980’s, NASA has evaluated thousands of studies relating to space transportation. It has been said we could “pave” the way to the moon with all the studies that have been conducted. These studies looked at thousands of combinations and variations of how to send humans beyond low Earth orbit, back to the moon and on to Mars. 

NASA looked at a wide variety of launch concepts — from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (Atlas V, Delta IV), Space Shuttle (including Shuttle C, Direct type approaches and other solid and liquid rocket booster propelled systems) combinations, foreign systems and clean sheet designs.

The Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) was chartered in the spring of 2005 to recommend a fundamental architecture for supporting International Space Station, Lunar and Mars transportation.

Using data from previous and ongoing studies (several hundred vehicles), and consisting of a team of knowledgeable experts from inside and outside NASA, this study compared many launch and staging options for safety, effectiveness, performance, flexibility, risk and affordability.

ESAS concluded that NASA should adopt and pursue a Shuttle-derived architecture as the next-generation launch system, using a smaller vehicle for crew missions and a dedicated, heavy-lift launcher for cargo missions. This approach was selected due to several significant advantages, particularly safety, reliability and cost.

NASA continued to refine its launch recommendations post-ESAS. Since early 2006 NASA has made the following major modifications to the initial designs.

Upgraded from the shuttle’s four-segment reusable solid rocket booster design (RSRB) to a five-segment RSRB design — forming a common basis for Ares I and V Eliminated the space shuttle main engine (SSME) in favor of a newly designed J-2X engine for the Ares I upper stage. The Ares V upgraded from a five-segment RSRB with expendable SSME Core to a derivative of the Ares I 1st stage with a six-engine RS-68 Core and the J-2X engine for the earth departure stage (EDS).

Developing the new J-2X engine for both the Ares I upper stage and the Ares V Earth departure stage solves several potential problems including starting the SSME at altitude and the major expense of using it for the first stage engine. For additional cost savings Ares will use the expendable RS-68 engine which is “off the shelf” technology that meets both Department of Defense and NASA needs.

These combined changes represent a projected savings of over $5 billion in life cycle costs below the initial ESAS recommendations.

The shuttle heritage design offers years of proven flight concepts with a very strong technical and safety foundation for next-generation vehicle. Since ESAS, NASA has continued to assess options — over 1,700 to date. After a thorough analysis of all the exploration architecture requirements, other solutions were ultimately determined to be less safe, less reliable, and more costly than Ares I and Ares V.

Throughout the selection process for its launch vehicles, NASA has been thorough, transparent, subject to regular independent reviews, open to alternative ideas, and has made all of its decisions based on hard data.

Ares is a solid foundation for America’s future in space.

20 thoughts on “Ares: America's Rocket for Future Space Missions”

  1. The things that I understand plus the topic makes sense are the Number 1. The things that don’t make sense are the number 0.

    0 flexibility
    1 clean sheet designs
    1 J-2x EDS
    0 dedicated heavy-lift
    1 hard data
    0 SSME
    0 Devel oping New J-2x
    1 small crew missions

    I guess If I understood it all then I would probably work for NASA.

  2. Good Article,

    But what the blog fails to point out to the reader, is that the architecture that came out on top just happened to match the one advocated by the administrator before he came to NASA and just happened to be the one that provides NASA an in-house, 50 billion dollar development program that will support the agency and its big centers for at least a decade and a half. The selection process was so transparent that NASA will not release the ESAS Appendixes 6A-6F so that the american people can see what assumptions were made in the selection process.

    One of the major points of this blog is that it fails to show the cost of Constellation. Contestellation is meant to cost over $30b over the next 10 years and that does not even include operational costs. If NASA thought that shuttle and Apollo was expensive, NASA’s plan for 4 missions to the moon will cost over 50% of its budget. Apollo was cancelled after how many flights? How many flights do you feel Apollo II will have? Constellation is meant to be shuttle dervived—please show me the parts that come from the shuttle. Even the SRB for Ares I and Ares V are completely differant. The SRB may look on the outside to be the same, but a closer look inside shows they are completely differant.

    I want to go to the moon. Getting to the moon has to be in a substainble way.

    I now the men and woman of NASA are doing the best and producing great work. If anyone can get Ares to fly, these are the people. NASA is at a crossroad just like in 1969. The shuttle was picked and the compromises started. The american public was promised 50 flights a year, we were luckly if we got an average of six flights a year. Yes, space is hard but we have a chance to do so much better. I support NASA, but NASA just has to do better than sending 16 astronuats annually to the moon for the money that it cost.

  3. Many of us out here would like to see the assumptions that those vehicle decisions were based on since, at least from out here, it looks as though the cislunar architecture was chosen based on the vehicle as opposed to the other way around. In Mike Griffin’s STA speech the other morning there was no mention at all of on-orbit assembly or refueling components of a cislunar architecture that would mitigate many of the perceived “requirements” that Constellation seems to be engineered for. If you could mitigate those mass requirements for a fully fueled Orion or get rid of Ares 1 all together you could have a much more sustainable program that may not have had such a significant gap.

    The 2008 NASA Authorization Act contains language about NASA allowing “participatory exploration”. One way of adhering to that language is for NASA to actually release those “previous and ongoing studies”. Especially being explicit about the assumptions behind the architecture chosen and the work done by those experts to determine the best match. I’m not one for conspiracies but when all of those studies and experts come to the _exact_ same conclusion that the new Administrator came to at the Planetary Society, then it seems as though someone fiddled with the inputs (the assumptions) in a way to guarantee a particular outcome.

  4. I noticed that there was no data or mention of the heavy lift capablity of the new generation of rockets. Are we to assume that we will be depending on the Russions heavy lift vehicles for any near future missions?

  5. Hi, this is a response for guest, comment #5:

    Ares has consistently met all of its milestones on plan, including four major acquisitions (ATK, Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne, Boeing USPC, and Boeing IUA) and multiple reviews which include the systems requirements review, systems design review and preliminary design review for the Ares 1 project, and the critical design review for the J2X engine. Ares is on track to meet all of its future milestone requirements as given to the project by NASA’s Constellation program. As to budget, Ares has stayed within budget each year since its inception in September 2005. Additionally the Ares project was recently selected to receive the NASA Earned Value Management Award of Excellence which is a key indicator of a project’s integrated cost and schedule progress toward meeting milestones.

    That said, due to changes in annually appropriated funding and three continuing resolutions, the Constellation program has had to adjust its milestones, shifting many to the right on the schedule, while still meeting NASA’s 2015 commitment to accommodate reductions in available funding. As NASA’s administrator stated in his speech last week to the Space Transportation Association, “The programmatic implementation of the Constellation architecture fits within NASA’s budget projections. Further, it is designed to accommodate funding reductions — which have totaled nearly $12 billion future dollars over just the last four years — by slipping schedule rather than by making technical compromises with which our successors would have to cope for decades. If we learn nothing else from the history of the Space Shuttle development compromises that were forced by budgetary considerations, I hope it is this: ‘late’ is ugly until you launch, but ‘wrong’ is ugly forever.”

  6. Gosh: how can I put the following succintly — though I’ll try:

    I have some *extreme* reservations about the affordability and sustainability of Ares 1 & V. Operating such an immense booster as the Ares V: *HOW* will NASA be able to afford to sustain multiple missions of the largest rocket booster in History, let alone get the funds for it in the first place?!

    How can NASA even afford to develop Ares 1, which itself is a very challenging project that threatens to duplicate already-existing capabilities of the already-flying Delta IV Heavy and the on-the-drawing board Atlas V Heavy? Oh, I know that senior Constellation managers insist that EELVs would need expensive, time-consuming modifications for Orion. But I’ve spoken to EELV engineers who insist this is flatly WRONG, that proper, independant analysis — beyond the Constellation in-house — were scarcely allowed. Upgrades to the Delta IV Heavy’s RS-68 engines and a new upper stage are *already* in progress or in advanced planning stages. And these vehicles have plenty of margin and no need to mitigate Thrust Oscillation in the first place.

    Although I have faith that the talented NASA engineers and contractors could eventually fix most or all of Ares 1’s problems, with everything we now know: why bother anymore, when there are other alternatives that would save time, money and all these headaches? Look, I want to see a huge, magnificent Ares V fly as much as the next guy; but I have little faith lawmakers will fork out for it at all. Why not just split all the payload for a Lunar mission equally, among two more modest, identical launchers on a genuine, Two-Launch Architecture?

  7. Will the missions be called Constellation or Ares?
    As in “Constellation 11”, or “Ares 8 will be next to land
    on the Moon since Apollo 17 1972″?
    Also, do i get to tag along? Please?

  8. This looks good to me. Just keep looking further into the future as well when planning, as I am sure you do. Example: Further down the road, wouldn’t it be cheaper to operate a reusable lunar lander? Or, what if (God forbid!) the Cape gets flooded?

  9. Yes, I’ve read Dr Griffin’s speech before I made my post?! It’s been the assertion from Lockheed and Boeing individuals that creating Ares 1 in the first place is a needless duplication of effort and resources, and they’re not just saying this because of their own products and ‘not invented here’ syndrome. These are people who in some cases have been designing and building space launcher hardware for *decades*. What makes them wrong and Dr Griffin (who I respect mightily, by the way) right?

    Look, I’m NOT an engineer, nor do I have qualifications that even come close to all the gentlemen I’ve mentioned. But I’m a 40-year observer of Space technology, design and history. And I respect their learned, earned opinions when they say that NASA’s launcher concept — a large, solid first stage that isn’t even truly Shuttle-derived anymore, beyond the steel segments — they say the Shuttle SRBs should be left alone; they work fine as they are and they should *ONLY* be used in their original context, or close to it. Anything else is a huge expenditure and duplication of effort over existing EELV derivatives. Solid boosters beyond a 4-Segment configuration are too heavy, too low a specific impulse, and too polluting to use for too many more years.

    Finally, no I’m NOT cheerleading for the ‘Direct’ guys here, in case you wonder about my agenda — though I admire their spirit. I think that a side-mounted ‘Shuttle-B’ concept would be quicker and cheaper to implement than Jupiter/Direct, even though it would be less-capable than their inline or Ares V.

  10. has nasa thought of using the shuttle in space as a ferry
    between the space station and the moon the cargo bay
    would get lunar base equipment there in bulk saving
    time good luck with years missions kiwikid says bye

  11. The Shuttles are too big, heavy and fragile to fly to the Moon: they were designed to be Earth Orbiters ONLY. To send a Shuttle to the Moon, slow it into lunar orbit, then send it back to Earth later would require hundreds of tons of fuel — more than any rocket around now or in the future, could carry all the way into space. And returning the Shuttle to Earth could only be done two ways, both virtually impossible: Even hundreds MORE tons of fuel would be needed to slow a Shuttle back down into Earth orbit, OR: attempting to fly a Shuttle back into Earth’s atmosphere at about 40,000kph (25,000 mph) which is the velocity you come back from the Moon at — this speed would be too much for the Shuttle’s heatshielding tiles to endure, about twice the load it normally has to cope with. Also, at that kind of speed and forces, the Shuttle’s big wings would simply be torn off.

    The crew of “Columbia” sadly lost their lives when their ship had to deal with a damaged condition causing stresses much *LESS* than what returning from the Moon would do. So you see, using the Space Shuttle Orbiters for the Moon is out of the question — that’s why NASA is designing new vehicles, based on shapes and concepts we know from past experience will work.

  12. If you want to have a sustained presence on the Moon, and to go to Mars, you need to find a way to ship large quantities of fuel around in the Earth-Moon and Mars systems. People in space need to travel fast, fuel and many other supplies do not. So ship the fuel using ion engines or solar sails hauling around the big tanks, and use small, fast spaceships for getting the people around. To me, the Aries 1/Orion spaceship looks like an excellent way to start. It could stay in use for a long time.

  13. Its a great plan. I like the design of the ship. Is there any other way to reduce the fuel consemption? ie fuel/U32 power source

  14. If I understand your question correctly — are you suggesting Uranium-235 as a fuel source, as in a nuclear thermal rocket?! I’m afraid nuclear rockets are very expensive and politically unpopular to contemplate in this day and age. The political will and GUTS to go with developing that technology is sadly lacking now. If the U.S. had found the money, political and public will to continue with the 1960s and 70’s atomic rocket programs: the U.S. might ALREADY have bases on the Moon, Mars and Asteroids. Probably.

    But in an era when someone is ostracised for driving a big, gas-guzzling pickup truck — let alone a rocket with nuclear fire in its tail… Well, you can figure it out!! (wink)

  15. it is great to discuver whats going on out there .i love to learn about all off space.thank you

  16. I loved all the rocket’s and blogs games and photos ,sleeping on the moon. Are you going to write any more because I would like to read them? from zoe dawn Hall your fan

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