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NASA to brief on manned spaceship 'concerns'

Shuttle/Soyuz replacement looking peaky?

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NASA will map the future of manned spacecraft later today, following long-running rumours of possible delays to the programme and increasing worries of over-reliance on Russian technology to support the International Space Station.

The US space agency will soon retire its fleet of Shuttle orbiters, after which America will have no manned space launch system until the arrival of the Ares I rocket and its Crew Launch Vehicle. Even if Ares I commences lifting crew to the space station in 2014 as planned, the station's astronauts will be dependent on Russia's Soyuz rockets for several years; and there have long been rumours of technical hitches and delays on the Ares I programme, even though it is supposed to be based on established technology.

NASA has just announced some favourable test results on the liquid-fuelled J-2X upper stage of Ares I. However, the space agency will also outline: "possible solutions to concerns raised about the early designs of the new crew launch vehicle". The briefing will be streamed live at 4:30 PM UK time (11:30 AM EDT), and can be heard here.

With tension high between the US and Russia over the fighting in Georgia, and Europe undecided between a manned ship of its own or a cooperative venture with Russia, many are hoping that NASA's Ares I news is positive.

There has already been widespread discussion of a temporary reprieve for the Shuttle so as to help bridge the upcoming gap.

The private Falcon programme run by PayPal multimillionaire and tech visionary Elon Musk could offer alternative astronaut lift; but Falcon has suffered technical snags of its own, having recently failed to reach orbit on the third attempt. ®

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