Colorado Springs, Colo. - President Barack Obama will announce plans to continue work on the Orion crew exploration vehicle, perhaps as a lifeboat for the International Space Station, when he visits Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.
Also coming in the president’s first public address on his new space policy will be a timetable for deciding on an exploration architecture that would include a hydrocarbon-fueled heavy-lift launch vehicle to send humans on the first leg of trips deeper into the Solar System than low-Earth orbit.
The announcement appears to be an effort to soften the blow of the new space policy embodied in the Fiscal 2011 NASA budget request. The plan to kill the Constellation program of space shuttle follow on vehicles and turn access to LEO over to the private sector has run into almost unanimous opposition in Congress.
Continued work on Orion – the vehicle NASA had intended as its crew carrier after the shuttle is retired at the end of the year – and a move toward a new heavy-lift vehicle to enable deep-space exploration again could be the starting point for compromise between the White House and Congress.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have appropriated more than $9 billion on Constellation, and have little enthusiasm for killing it outright. Continued work on Orion would capture some of that investment, and there could be spillovers from development of Constellation’s launch vehicles – Ares I and Ares V – that could apply to a heavy lift architecture.
The moves would also give space workers who will lose their jobs with the end of the shuttle program a tangible alternative for comparable employment. In rolling out the Obama space plan, White House officials appear to have miscalculated the reaction to eliminating Constellation jobs on the heels of the shuttle's retirement.
Administration officials began leaking advance word of Obama’s Florida speech this afternoon, citing 2015 as the date for a decision on proceeding with a heavy lift launch vehicle. Obama is scheduled to spend about 45 minutes at KSC on Thursday afternoon, visiting a shuttle launch pad and addressing a small hand-picked audience on his new space policy.