NASA nixes crew for test flight of new megarocket in 2019

Janie Parker
May 13, 2017

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot released a statement Friday, May 12, stating that NASA will not fly a crew on the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

"It is technically capable of launching crew on EM-1, but after evaluating cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it would be hard to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning", it said in a 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 will adjust the target launch date for the EM-1 mission to 2019, and will execute its normal process in the coming weeks to determine an official revised launch date", it said.

Adding humans to the first flight-essentially collapsing the requirements of both missions into one-would also have resulted in higher risks and could have affected future schedules for NASA's ultimate goal of one day landing astronauts on Mars.

NY [U.S.], May 13: NASA will be launching its Space Launch System in 2019, but has ruled out putting a crew on board.

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"Any time you are trying to rapidly add capabilities, you are asking for trouble in a system like this", said Casey Dreier, director of space policy at The Planetary Society, which lobbies for greater funding of space science and exploration.

To include astronauts in the first launch, the Orion capsule would require life support and a fully working launch abort system, which is created to help the crew capsule escape a failure.

Lightfoot said in press conference today that putting a crew on the first flight of the SLS was technically feasible. Plus it would have cost a lot more money, approximately between $600 million and $900 million extra, and NASA would have needed additional time to pull it off. Lightfoot said that a 2020 flight was more likely if people needed to be on board. More generally, he argued that NASA and its industry team have already completed "phenomenal" work both on SLS and Orion and are making good progress building a complex system. "So we knew those had to get added in".

Currently, the SLS engine section structural test hardware is being shipped via barge to the Marshall Space Flight Center for testing. The SLS is similar in size to the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program but generate far more thrust.

The megarocket represents a robust foundation for ultimately moving human presence out into the solar system, Gerstenmaier said. Doing so would have meant changes to the EM-1 rocket and spacecraft, which was planned to fly without humans, and solving engineering challenges, like the life-support system, that the agency had scheduled for the build out of the second, crewed exploration mission, called EM-2. Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is now in production for both the first and second missions.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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