U.S. astronauts would circle the moon within five years under a plan proposed to NASA by Lockheed Martin, according to Aviation Week:
A 70-metric-ton version of the eventual, much larger SLS, perhaps fitted with a Boeing Delta 4 upper stage, could sling astronauts around the Moon in 2016, under a test flight scenario that Lockheed Martin has discussed with NASA. The demonstration mission would accelerate plans for the first human mission of the four-person MPCV by five years….
With $6 billion of the agreed-upon total, NASA would ready the capsule for a series of milestone flight tests, beginning with a mid-2013 two-orbit unpiloted mission. The flight would boost Orion to an altitude of 5,000 nm for a steep, high-velocity re-entry to characterize the performance of the ablative heat shield and parachute descent and ocean recovery.
Lockheed Martin has reserved a Delta 4 Heavy for the demanding unpiloted flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, though the choice of launchers is under evaluation.
A second test of the Orion/MPCV’s Launch Abort System would follow a year later. Also lofted from Kennedy, the spacecraft would rise atop a Peacekeeper missile first-stage solid-fuel rocket motor to 50,000 ft. for release of the unpiloted capsule in a test of the abort system guidance and navigation controls at maximum aerodynamic pressure. The abort system executed a successful unpiloted launch pad abort demonstration in May 2010 at White Sands, N.M.
NASA had been looking at a plan to conduct an unmanned Orion flight in 2017 with a crew mission in 2021. The Lockheed Martin approach would accelerate the schedule by five years. It also would allow Orion to serve as a backup to the commercial crew program for orbital missions to the International Space Station. The schedule depends upon funding availability.