I’ve been an opponent of Ares I for quite a long time (not from the beginning though, but I have become more of an optimist since, regarding better ways). In light of these things, it might seem that the huge political and bureaucratic machine that is NASA can finally start turning around. Mike Griffin in his time changed the direction of NASA very quickly by firing a lot of leaders and starting the development of the Orion capsule and the Ares rockets based on the ESAS three month quick study. On the other hand, ESAS’ conclusions somehow ended with the industrial base not changing significantly. Still solid rocket boosters for example. So one can question, did the direction really change in that sense?
But if there’s a real change, it could very well be that an Orion (or some variant or derivative of it) could fly on an EELV. It is strange to an outsider that the ESAS (with references to unpublished appendices) claimed how EELV:s are less safe and more expensive than Ares I. Then there’s the whole “black zones” kerfluffle, that warrants its own entry, if true. Basically and oversimplified, NASA said the EELV:s need new upper stages since they have tiny engines in second stages which need vertical trajectories. The vertical trajectories are a problem in case of an abort, since they result in high G loads on the way down. But some people say the EELV guys were not consulted on this, and that they could easily fly shallower trajectories. Maybe I’ll post more about this some day with better references.
There are rumors around that a new NASA administrator has been chosen. While I do not think an EELV solution itself for US manned space access is smart in the long run, it is pretty good in the short run (next five to fifteen years). What is much much more important is that if there are multiple launch providers and the payloads are switchable between rockets, then that is a field where improvement is very easy and cheap, since one can introduce new launchers to the “launcher mix” without jeopardizing the whole “program”. (The program mentality is one big problem as well.) NASA is the biggest worldwide player in tonnage to orbit, by a huge margin. They have the bucks, and thus they control the spacefaring development of the world.
A lot hinges on the new NASA administrator choice. (Unless Griffin was really a puppet too.)
Expect to hear little
I expect mainstream aerospace journalism to be as apathetic about all this as before too. It seems there are relatively few technical people there, and hence they don’t recognize the whole existence of the difference between technical solutions, they are all equally good. To them, it’s just a political definition if Ares I works or not. Even programs like NASP, people like Rob Coppinger somehow think failed because of “politics” – I find they failed because of grossly unrealistic and unjustified technical assumptions right at the beginning. That again warrants a separate post (there are books about it already).
So, if you’re a politician, a space business person or a technical person working on the space sector, maybe you should read something else than the postmodern relativist lazy mainstream media if you want real insight… And probably actually at least many of the experts have already moved to other medias.