Project Constellation

Tracking the progress of NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Vision for Space Exploration

About ProjectConstellation.US

  1. Track the initial planning, conceptual design, construction, and operation of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (built under NASA’s effort called “Project Constellation”)
  2. Follow the transformation of NASA and its execution of the Vision for Space Exploration offered by President George W. Bush on January 14, 2004.
  3. Report on other space-related topics of interest.

This weblog will present the latest news articles, NASA documents, concept artwork, editorials, and other commentary on these topics. In addition, the readers and visitors of the weblog are encouraged to regularly discuss these topics and offer all points of view using the comment system. Together we form a small but robust community that can serve as a place to share ideas on how these goals can be achieved.

James L. Burk is the founder & editor of ProjectConstellation.US and An independent space writer and longtime advocate of space exploration, James has in the past served as President of the Seattle chapter of The Mars Society and the national Vice President of Lune Moon Society / Artemis Society. An Internet pioneer since the early nineties, he has worked as a software project manager, developer, and consultant for Microsoft and other companies.

Disclaimer: This website does not have any connection with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) nor does any product or service being offered or made available to the public have the authorization, support, sponsorship, or endorsement on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


NASA has started to cut or delay some programs to focus more resources on its priorities, including speeding the development of a space shuttle replacement and planning to service the aging Hubble Space Telescope, the agency administrator said Thursday.

Dr. Griffin said that by mid-July, he hoped to have a plan developed by a study group to speed development of the crew vehicle and the rocket that will launch it. He acknowledged that accelerated plans often cost more initially, but said the plan could end up saving money in other ways.

For instance, he said, choosing a single contractor by 2006, rather than having two competing teams of contractors doing flight demonstrations in 2008 as earlier envisioned, could save $1 billion or more for use in the near term.


As a critical component of the Agency replanning effort, I have initiated an Exploration Systems Architecture Study. The study team will begin immediately and must complete its activities by mid-July to support a number of key Agency decisions. The study team will focus on four primary areas:

  1. Complete assessment of the top-level Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) requirements and plans to enable the CEV to provide crew transport to the ISS and to accelerate the development of the CEV and crew launch system to reduce the gap between Shuttle retirement and CEV IOC.

  2. Definition of top-level requirements and configurations for crew and cargo launch systems to support the lunar and Mars exploration programs.

  3. Development of a reference lunar exploration architecture concept to support sustained human and robotic lunar exploraiton operations.

  4. Identification of key technologies required to enable and significantly enhance these reference exploration systems and reprioritization of near-term and far-term technology investments.


NASA has initiated the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) in an effort to minimize the gap between the final Space Shuttle mission and the maiden flight of an operational Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). Attached is the NASA Memorandum signed on April 29, 2005 by Administrator Griffin which initiated the ESAS.

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has embarked upon a rigorous review of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) architecture to determine opportunities to minimize the gap between an operational CEV and retirement of the Shuttle in 2010. This assessment is a part of the “Exploration Systems Architecture Study”, which was chartered by the NASA Administrator on April 29, 2005. The product of this analysis is anticipated by mid-July 2005.


The future of human space transportation, not only into Earth orbit, but also back to the Moon and onto Mars, kick-started this week as NASA received contractor proposals for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).


The Future of Flight?

When NASA requested designs for a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), two major teams–one headed by Lockheed Martin and one by Northrop Grumman and Boeing–took on the challenge. The winning concept will be chosen in 2008, and the manned vehicle flown in 2014.

Editor’s Note: Must read article with deep details on Lockheed Martin’s concept for the CEV. Cool Photos!


After examining many options, we have formed a policy on institutional support of systems engineering and integration in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate portfolio, which underscores the importance of reinforcing the Government’s internal systems engineering competency. Accordingly, NASA has concluded that Government personnel at Headquarters and NASA Centers will implement systems engineering and integration in Constellation Systems and other areas of the Exploration program. Consequently, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate will not be releasing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an Industry systems engineering and integration contractor.


NASA will accelerate development efforts for a new manned spacecraft that will follow the retirement of the agency’s shuttle fleet, a top spaceflight official told U.S. Senate subcommittee today.

NASA’s three remaining space shuttles are slated for retirement by 2010 following the completion of the International Space Station (ISS). A new spacecraft – the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) – has been tapped as its replacement, but is not expected to fly its first human-carrying mission until at least 2014.


NASA’s new administrator, Michael Griffin, faced the press today for the first time since being confirmed by the Senate last week and vigorously defended the Bush administration’s ambitious plan to send human beings to the moon and Mars.

“We could probably go to Mars for what we spent on Apollo” in today’s dollars, he said.

“It is a journey, not a race,” Griffin said. If the country put aside “a few billion a year,” the Mars plan would be “very affordable.”


New NASA Administrator Mike Griffin held his first news conference today. Focus is on Return to Flight, but also “hitting the ground sprinting” and accellerating the CEV from its first crew flight in 2014. To say I’m very excited that this man is heading our space agency would be somewhat of an understatement. I think he is the perfect man for the job. On a personal note, the fact that he mentioned his study with the Planetary Society (I’m a longtime activist with that organization & others), was a “touchdown” moment.

Introducing the Crew Exploration Vehicle

by James Burk

On January 14th, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush gave an historic speech at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC: “Today I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We will begin the effort quickly, using existing programs and personnel. We’ll make steady progress – one mission, one voyage, one landing at a time.”

Bush announced that the first goal will be to return the Space Shuttle to flight safely, and consistent with the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Once construction of the International Space Station (ISS) is complete, the Space Shuttle will be retired by 2010 to make way for a new spacecraft, the construction of which will transform America into a truly spacefaring nation.

“Our second goal,” Bush went on, “is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module.”

The program to build the “Crew Exploration Vehicle” or CEV is now called “Project Constellation”. It will do much more than simply to develop a single new vehicle. NASA will utilize a spiral development model to create variants of the CEV which can travel to earth orbit, to lunar orbit, to help conduct lunar landings, to build extended duration habitats, and to destinations beyond, such as Mars, near-earth asteroids, and the outer planets.

Thus, the development of the CEV represents the most significant new research into manned spacecraft since the mid-1960s. It will inherit the legacy and most likely the shape of the Apollo Command Module, but will benefit from almost 40 years of technological advances.

While it is still early in the development of the CEV hardware, some of the concepts that may be adopted have already begun to emerge. Overall, a modular design is being touted in order for new capabilities to be added and to allow future launch vehicles designs to be easily swapped out. Another detail is that a capsule-shaped design is being favored. Other wing-shaped designs have not been ruled out yet, but many observers of the project, including the very astronauts that will ride the vehicle, are strongly in favor of the capsule shape due to its proven flightworthiness during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

Aside from the crew module itself, other modules are being designed to enable extended stays in space. Included in a series of graphic mockups released by Boeing is an inflatable habitat module, which many have already compared to a past NASA effort to develop an inflatable habitat for ISS, and as part of an interplanetary vehicle for future voyages to Mars.

Transhab, or “Transit Habitat”, was a $3 million technology development program funded by NASA that was cancelled, once detractors in Congress realized its applicability to future manned Mars hardware. At the time of its cancellation, a moratorium was in place at NASA to prevent any research not specifically tied to the Shuttle or ISS programs. If no other advances are made by the current Space exploration initiative, the single greatest thing it has done, in the opinion of many, is to shatter that moratorium and allow research on human exploration beyond earth orbit to be conducted by NASA.

The requirements and supervision of construction for Project Constellation hardware will be the job of NASA’s new Exploration Systems office (NASA Code T). It was formally chartered the day after Bush’s announcement and is headed by Craig E. Steidle, a retired Navy Admiral. Steidle was formerly the Vice Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, responsible for research, development, and procurement of new naval aeronautical systems. Under his watch, NAVAIR transformed the way it did business during a time when its budgets were decreasing. Steidle streamlined the command, improving processes for communication, responding to problems, and bringing commercial methodologies into use. He also commanded the Navy’s largest production, research, and development effort, the F/A-18 Program.

Steidle has already earned respect from all corners, and has touted a CEV “fly-off” between the top two industry contractors (expected at this early stage to be Boeing and Lockheed Martin). Steidle has also advocated NASA’s Centennial Challenges program as a way for CEV development to be accellerated and a way to assist program goals to be met by industry.

Over time, more details will emerge on the form and function of the CEV and the timeline of development & the first test flights. But overall, this is a most exciting time for observers of the space program and those who dream of humans again walking on the Moon and walking on the surface of the Red Planet.

James Burk is an independent space writer and the editor of - Pleine Lune and