Opposition to Bridenstine’s Plan to Fly Orion Mission on Commercial Boosters

Orion spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

There has been some push back to the proposal by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a flight test around the moon next year using a pair of commercial boosters instead of the Space Launch System (SLS).

“While I agree that the delay in the SLS launch schedule is unacceptable, I firmly believe that SLS should launch the Orion,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)  in a statement to SpaceNews.

NASA has recently stated that it is reevaluating weather it can launch SLS with Orion during the first half of 2020. The schedule for this launch and subsequent flights with crews has been slipping for years.

The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration issued a statement opposing the change.

This morning at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, NASA Administrator Bridenstine mentioned that NASA is investigating an alternate approach to flying an Orion crew vehicle and European Service Module (SM) to the Moon by June of 2020. This approach would continue the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), enabling a full testing regime for this critical national asset, and bring SLS and Orion together for the following mission.  

No launch vehicle other than the SLS can enable the launch of a fully-outfitted Orion, including the SM, to the Moon. As a result, the Administrator noted that this approach would require at least two launches of heavy-lift vehicles. It could also include in-orbit assembly of a launch vehicle with an upper stage, which would then be used to direct Orion and the SM to the Moon. The analysis to determine whether this approach is feasible is still ongoing. The integration challenges are significant. It is also clear that this approach would require additional funding, since the idea is to undertake both this mission and to continue development of the SLS apace.

The assessment of options such as these are the hallmark of both NASA and the aerospace industry that supports it. Distributed across all 50 states in civil, commercial and military space, the aerospace and defense industry is crucial to U.S. competitiveness across the globe and to American leadership in science, security, entrepreneurship and human exploration of space. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and its member companies strongly support forward-leaning efforts to speed human return to the Moon. We welcome the opportunity to join NASA in the flights of Orion, SLS and the Exploration Ground Systems that support these journeys, and the rapid expansion of science, commerce and human exploration at the Moon and beyond.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), whose Delta IV Heavy booster launched the first Orion capsule on an Earth orbit mission in 2014, also issued a statement.

ULA recognizes the unparalleled capabilities of NASA’s Space Launch System for enabling efficient architectures in Cislunar and Mars exploration. We are proud to work collaboratively with The Boeing Company to develop the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for the first flight of the SLS.

If asked, we can provide a description of the capabilities of our launch vehicles for meeting NASA’s needs, but acknowledge that these do not match the super heavy lift performance and mission capabilities provided by SLS for the Exploration Missions proposed by NASA.

  • Robert G. Oler

    save our pork jobs

  • P.K. Sink
  • duheagle

    What is most noteworthy about the CDSE statement is how resigned it sounds.

    What is most noteworthy about the ULA statement is its evident intent to try keeping the usual suspects happy while also hinting that the company is angling for a piece of EM-1.

  • Cluebat Vanexodar

    Delays are unacceptable. Commercial boosters are unacceptable.
    This is all political blather. A choice must be made, Senator.

  • Saturn1300

    BO Bob Smith said it best. If there are enough missions for SLS, build it. If not, use commercial.