NASA nixes crew for test flight of new megarocket in 2019

Posted May 13, 2017

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is now in production for both the first and second missions.

Lightfoot emphasized, "the White House has been very supportive of our plan", and that based on the study's findings, NASA and the White House made the latest EM-1 decisions "together".

EM-1 and EM-2 are the first two in a broad series of exploration missions that will take US astronauts to deep space, and eventually to Mars.

WESH 2 Space Expert Dan Billow brought us all the details from Cape Canaveral. Specifically, NASA wanted to know if such a crewed flight could be done safely by 2019. The agency had hoped to launch in 2018, with a crewed mission in 2021.

While acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said that it would be technically feasible to add crew to the first SLS mission (called Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1), the risk would be too great when compared to the possible benefits. "NASA will execute its normal process to determine an official revised launch date for EM-1", Lightfoot wrote in his statement.

By the end of the next fiscal year on September 30, 2018, Nasa will have spent US$23 billion on the rocket, capsule, launch site and support systems, according to an audit by Nasa's Office of Inspector General.

NASA has yet to formally reschedule the EM-1 flight date, but told the GAO it would do so by September 30, the end of the current USA budget year.

The research "really reaffirmed that the baseline plan we have in place was the best way for us to go", he told reporters on a conference call.

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"It's really consistent with our available resources, and while it still has technical risk, we have a good handle on that and how an uncrewed mission will actually help EM-2 be a safer mission when we put crew on there".

Rockets in the early years of space flight were unreliable in test phases and sometimes blew up on the pad or shortly after liftoff.

NASA plans for the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to be the flagship of the agency for decades to come, flying astronauts deeper into space than ever before. However, a lot of technologies would have to be accelerated, such as a life support system to keep the crew alive and abort system that could save the crew in case of an emergency during flight.

SLS is being developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and major components are being built by contractors at the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans under Marshall's management.

Gerstenmaier and Lightfoot said that the feasibility study is not in a report format and some of the information is ITAR-sensitive, so there will no public release of what they based their decision on.

The program has also had to contend with welding glitches on the SLS and a May 3 incident in which the dome of a liquid oxygen tank on the core stage was severely damaged during the manufacturing of test hardware. "If you look at the amount of work we've accomplished, it's pretty phenomenal overall. and that's caused some of the delays". It is created to be a flight test of our entire system - one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations.

The SLS program in general has been replete with delays, and that's no different now.