NASA’s constellation program is a recent undertaking by NASA designed to replace the current aging Space Shuttle program. Developed through the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, this new program will help to develop new technologies while exploring space outside the realm of Earth’s environment.Through the constellation program, NASA is looking to develop space and booster vehicles which will replace the current space shuttles.
At the current time, NASA is in the process of designing Ares 1 and Ares 5, two boosters with different functions. These boosters will have cutting edge technology using NASA’s decades of space experience to help launch astronauts into space using safe and reliable transportation.The Ares 1 booster will be primarily responsible for the launch of mission crews into space, while the Ares 5 booster will be responsible for the launching of equipment needed for space exploration. Because of its responsibilities, the Ares 5 will have the capability of carrying a much heavier load than will the Ares 1. These rocket boosters derived from the boosters used on the space shuttles will help propel the Orion space craft much in the same way the solid rocket boosters were used for space shuttles.The Ares booster is not the only new vehicles being designed for use with the constellation program. In addition to Ares 1 and 5, NASA has designed the Orion, the Altair and the Earth Departure Stage.
Orion will be a new compartment for crew members. It is designed to hold up to six crew members and will be reusable for up to six flights. Orion will have three particular modules, Orion 1 for trips to the International Space Station. Orion numbers two and three will be used for deep space exploration. Currently, the Orion is in the preliminary design stage , a stage which includes many checkouts for its function and safety.
In addition to Ares and Orion, NASA has plans to make the Altair lunar surface module. Altair will be the main space module for trips to the moon’s surface. This vehicle will be about five times larger than the previously used Apollo lunar module. Altair will have two parts, one which can hold four crew members and a second which holds oxygen, water and other necessities for the crew. The Altair vehicle is currently in its third stage of testing to make sure that its risks are low and its technology top of the line.
The Earth Departure Stage is a propulsion system which is capable of sending the Ares, Orion and Altair vehicles towards the moon, once they leave earth’s surface. This propulsion system is similar to the space shuttles external tank and will be used to thrust itself and the Orion system into a low earth orbit once the Ares 5 is deployed as well as the Altair lunar lander.
This is the basis for the Constellation program which will take over moon and space exploration for the United States once the current space shuttle is retired some time in 2010.