NASA will soon set a new date for the maiden flight of its massive Space Launch Program rocket, which will send the Orion spacecraft on a test flight around the Moon. Previously, this flight was scheduled for 2018, but NASA officials admitted earlier this year that the launch date will enter 2019.
Now, there is a possibility of further delays, although NASA has not said this publicly yet. On Wednesday, at the Wernher von Braun Memorial ceremony in Huntsville, Alabama, a key official said a 2019 date is still on the table because the Marshall Space Flight Center hopes to stage the rocket base at the launch site in Florida in late 2018. .
Noting a recent Agency Planning Board meeting, during which launch dates were decided, Marshall director Todd May said, “2019 is where we think we can do that.” NASA’s executive director, Robert Lightfoot, should release an official launch date within the next few weeks, May added.
Work to be done
During a NASA safety meeting earlier this month, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Board noted that there are three main things on the “critical path” before the SLS rocket can launch its daughter. First, Marshall must deliver a fully tested critical stage—the first liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks and RS-25 rocket engines. The European Space Agency must also complete and then test the service module to power the Orion spacecraft in deep space. And there is much work to be completed and software testing to control the launch systems at the Kennedy Space Center.
“This is an important point,” said a member of the advisory board, engineer Donald McErlean. “SLS continues to improve, and there are challenges that remain that no one will be surprised by a system as advanced and complex as this. But work to overcome those challenges is ongoing. “
For her part, May said that this hard work will be a highlight for the many engineers at NASA and the hundreds of contractors and specialists working to bring the massive SLS rocket to the launch pad. “This is the fun part,” May said Wednesday. “It’s a tough part, but it’s also a really fun part for the team.”
“Risk Notification” date.
Recently, the managing editor of the NASASpaceFlight.comChris Bergin, suggest that NASA managers are deciding between a “best case” launch date of December 2019 for the SLS rocket and a “risk notification” date in the second quarter of 2020. Bergin is a reliable source of inside information about NASA, and the sources then confirm this information to Ars.
It is physically possible for NASA to make a launch date in 2019, but historically, things can (and often do) go wrong in the assembly and testing of major launch systems. While it is possible to beat the odds or solve problems quickly, there is no guarantee that will happen between now and a 2019 launch date.
The issue now facing NASA’s acting chief, Robert Lightfoot, is whether to set a more political launch date in 2019 knowing it could easily slide into 2020. Also, if Lightfoot were to launch a public launch date of 2020, it would release the pressure now. on NASA and its employees, allowing managers to rest and the previous day’s guarantee did not arrive. So, the smart money is on the launch date in 2019, with the final slip into 2020.
Compilation photo by NASA/MSFC/MAF/Jude Guidry