NASA Will Not Fly Crew on First SLS/Orion Mission

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials announced on Friday the first combined flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be conducted without a crew as originally planned. They also said the flight test will slip from 2018 to 2019.

The announcements came after the space agency conducted a review at the request of the Trump Administration to see if EM-1 could be safely flown with a crew. NASA plans to place a crew aboard the EM-2 mission, which is currently scheduled for 2021.

In a media teleconference, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said although it would be technically possible to put a crew of the first flight, the space agency decided to stick with the original plan.

He said a number of factors played a role in the decision. For example, the development of crew software and the life support and environmental control system would have to be accelerated.

Budget was also an issue. NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said a crewed EM-1 mission would have cost the agency an additional $600 million to $900 million.

Lightfoot said NASA and the Trump White House made the decision after examining the results of the space agency’s review.

Lightfoot said placing a crew on the EM-1 mission would have likely delayed the flight into the first or second quarter of 2020, he added.

The EM-1 mission will enable engineers to give Orion a full workout during a 21- to 25-day that will place the spacecraft in a distant retrograde orbit around the moon, the officials said. A crewed mission would be shorter due to safety concerns.

The EM-1 mission will be delayed from late 2018 to an unspecified date in 2019. There have been delays in manufacturing, welding and the deliver of a European-supplied service module for Orion. A tornado also damaged a production facility in Louisiana.

The delay in EM-1 will cause a delay in the crewed EM-2 mission, which is scheduled for 2021, officials said. One of the issues is the launch pad will require modifications after the first flight to accommodate a longer variant of the SLS booster.

Officials said they are investigating an accident in which the dome of a SLS fuel tank was damaged when it was dropped. They said the asccident was not likely to delay the EM-1 mission because another dome is available.

Lightfoot said the Trump Administration is not pushing the agency to send humans to Mars by 2024. President Donald Trump had mentioned the possibility of moving up the mission — scheduled for the 2030’s — during a phone to astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

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  • JamesG

    sigh… nothing to see here move along, pay your taxes citizen.

  • Robert G. Oler

    what I love is that when asked why the program was behind schedule even with a lot of money “Gerst” goes “I dont know”

    Houston is the problem

  • Kapitalist

    He blamed the weather, didn’t he? The storm at Michoud. He should’ve gone on about the climate change to be perfectly PC. But he’s maybe a little afraid now that Obama is gone and the White House has turned on the lights.

  • Robert G. Oler

    the latest scam he was pushing was ‘who could know the welding was so hard”…but he actually says “I dont know” which is just code for “I am incompetent”

  • That’s a good decision. If it was smart to fly on the second flight before Trump/SpaceX pressure, then it’s a good idea after.

  • therealdmt

    Whew

  • Kapitalist

    Especially welding H/LOX tanks which were only adapted from earlier proven designs (or should’ve been). Tanks like this have been welded successfully since half a century. It’s not like SpaceX experimenting with helium tanks inside oxygen tanks and with carbon materials and hyper cooled fuels. SLS/Orion doesn’t try to do anything new. It is a 1960s reenactment play based on the left overs after the space shuttle. “It’s sad”.

    And they were bragging about building the largest welding machine in the “galaxy” (which I suppose is true, aliens probably also don’t weld for more than a century or so). I thought it was a bad news that such an investment and challenge was required. But they seemed to pretend to celebrate it. I suppose they celebrated the huge cash flow. The SLS guys are aiming at money space.

  • Flatley

    Smart move. I was worried.

  • Robert G. Oler

    almost everything NASA does these days is “hard” …meanwhile others are moving on

  • newpapyrus

    SLS crew launches are supposed to use the EUS which probably won’t be ready until 2021.

    And the Boeing/ATK space launch system won’t even be fully operational
    until the new Aerojet Rocketdyne engines are in production. And the new
    RS-25 engines probably won’t be in production until 2022.

    So spending money on a stunt that doesn’t even involve the EUS would have been a complete waste of tax payer dollars.

    Marcel

  • ThomasLMatula

    I guess they have taken the “hard” part of President Kennedy’s Rice University speech as the core of their narrative but have forgotten the rest of the statement..

    https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

    “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

    Sad to say, I think that STS135 will probably be the last NASA designed launch vehicle to have transported humans to space.

  • Kapitalist

    They do have RS-25 in storage for two or three SLS launches. The EUS uses the same engine as the interim stage, so maybe the interim stage somehow makes sense as a step towards developing EUS. It won’t help SLS Block I that Falcon Heavy will have lifted as much to LEO (64 ton expendable FH vs 70 ton SLS-I) dozens of times before its first launch.

    SLS/Orion will be totally outcompeted by much cheaper and then already flight proven alternatives with frequent launch cadence and new technologies and abilities. SLS is designed using whatever is left over from the shuttle. New larger launchers are instead designed with a purpose in mind. SLS should’ve been a very quick and dirt cheap temporary stop gap replacement for the Shuttle. Instead, under NASA management it costs more than the sum of all other launcher development in the entire world for decades and it will never fly humans.

  • Saturn13

    SpaceX on their website says FH 140,000lbs to Leo. Or 70 tons, the same or near SLS. They are welding thicker material than anyone else. If they had used Saturn tech they would have used skin and stringer, instead they used 6″ thick AL blocks. This is easier to automate. They have someone machine in reinforcement like stringers instead of welding. They bend to the right curve. Each plate is then welded together. They said they needed the strength. FH will throttle down the center engine. I wonder how close this is to cross feed.

  • Kapitalist

    Falcon 9 has been upgraded from 300 to 500 tons on the launch pad. Surely the Falcon Heavy will also be continuously evolved. A wider central booster, which is a non-standard Falcon first stage anyway, with more engines might help solve the cross feed challenge, with more room and mass for pumps or how it is supposed to be done. And on top of it a more powerful upper stage. SLS Block II will go beyond 110 tons to LEO only in 2029 if they develop brand new “advanced” solid boosters. A FH v3 might beat Block IB in capacity. SLS will be so humiliated that it won’t fly.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Tom the problem is that the goals since Apollo are the goals of NASA but not so much the nation…and NASA is very very good at overselling what the “goal” will do…and then as it flounders along the way backsliding to “well we have this”….its almost like the goal was men on the moon and well in the end we settle for people in space studying the moon…

    SLS has so many problems but not the least of which is that “what” it is suppose to do is well nebulous. there is no defined mission for it, and as a result “the build” lacks any challenge …

    I dont think it is a bad thing that NASA designed vehicles are on their way out…because until we can define a goal of NASA that is a goal of the American people…the orgainzation is impossible

  • Arthur Hamilton

    That 70t mark for SLS is the minimum tonnage that it is being built for. It should be able to lift 90t or so from a briefing that I remember Charlie Bolden giving, during the question part.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    If SLS doesn’t fly, then, someone is going to jail. Unless they change the law.

  • The_Random_Sample

    Yeah, just like all those people who went to jail following the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    SLS is noting more that a modified super heavy Delta IV. At least they are using American rocket engines. Even though it seems that AJR has never had any interest is producing an affordable rocket engine. Just my opinion.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Ha, ha good one.

  • windbourne

    nope. Nobody will go to jail. Never happen.

  • windbourne

    hopefully, STS-135 IS the last NASA designed launch vehicle.
    There are plenty of companies now that are doing launch vehicles and doing them better.

    OTOH, NASA designed tugs, landers, hopefully, nuke engines, are desperately needed. And sooner, not later.

  • windbourne

    oh, they can design a very affordable engine.
    There is just no massive profits in that.

  • JamesG

    They should. But yeah…

    Hell, probably no one, elected or otherwise, notionally “in charge” will even lose their jobs, that will left for all the little people.

  • windbourne

    heck, when we bailed out the banks, how many went to jail? Near as I can tell, only to buy them.

  • Kapitalist

    Those popular LEO figures are quite floating. Nothing seems to be the same twice anyway. I think proven launchers should be best ranked by how much mass they have actually put into orbit X.

    Even 90 tons for SLS-I is a decrease compared to STS. I wonder what explains it considering that SLS has 4/3 as many main engines and 5/4 as many booster segments as the Shuttle STS did, and a Delta upper stage on top of that. Air resistance and center of mass should be slightly better on the SLS than with a winged ferry sitting on the side. The empty main tank/main stage maybe had to be made much stronger and more massive?

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    I think cross-feed is off the table now given the increased performance of the engines. The additional complexity not being worth the effort.
    Cheers

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Well the latest launch provides new capability data for F9.
    Cheers

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Constellation was going to use 5 RS-68’S which would’ve been 1.5 million more lbs thrust than SLS.