An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule with its European Service Module placed beneath it and an upper stage powering it out of Earth orbit. (NASA Illustration)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a Senate hearing today that his agency is looking into an option to double up commercial launch vehicles in order to keep a crucial test mission for its Orion spaceship and European-built service module on schedule for mid-2020.
The shift would take NASA’s own heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, out of the rotation for the uncrewed test flight around the moon, known as Exploration Mission 1 or EM-1.
“Certainly there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities to launch the Orion crew capsule and the European Service Module around the moon by June of 2020, which was our originally stated objective,” Bridenstine told Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Some of the SLS’ critics (and defenders) might see the move as one more step toward canceling the multibillion-dollar, oft-delayed rocket development project. Bridenstine, however, insisted that the shift for EM-1 was part of a strategy for making sure a follow-up flight that would send astronauts around the moon, known as Exploration Mission 2 or EM-2, wouldn’t face even further delays.
“The goal is to get back on track,” he said.
Bridenstine said that NASA planners determined last week that the preparations for EM-1 wouldn’t make the previously anticipated June 2020 launch date. In response, he asked mission teams to take a serious look at commercial options.
The SLS is designed to be the most powerful rocket built since the Saturn V rocket that sent astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. Commercial heavy-lift rockets, such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy, aren’t considered powerful enough to send the Orion …read more