More hints that the first SLS launch will be delayed again


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Government in action! The head of the Marshall Space Flight Center yesterday once again hinted that the first unmanned launch of SLS/Orion, presently scheduled for late in 2019, could be delayed again.

In September, the agency said in a statement that it would announce a new target date for EM-1 in October, citing the need to account for a range of issues, including progress on the European-built Orion service module and shutdowns at NASA centers from hurricanes in August and September.

However, an update in October is increasingly unlikely. “Within a few weeks, I think [NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot] intends to codify whatever that date is going to be,” Todd May, director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in remarks at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium here Oct. 25.

Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, offered a similar assessment. “Probably in the next month, maybe sooner,” he said in an interview.

These hints have been standard operating procedure for announcing SLS’s endless delays for the past decade. First they make hints that a delay might happen, but reassure everyone that it is very unlikely. Then they follow this up later with announcements about how they need more time to accomplish all their goals. By the third announcement they outline a possible new schedule, including some delay but insist that it isn’t likely. Finally, they release the new dates, often as an aside during some other announcement in order to minimize the news.

It should be noted that the new dates have almost never been realistic. NASA has usually known that the new dates are interim, and that further delays will likely require more of this same dance to make them public.

So, here is my prediction: They are preparing us for the fact that the first unmanned flight will likely slip into 2020, which means the first manned flight slips for certain into 2023, as I have been predicting for the past three years.

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11 comments

  • Calvin G Dodge

    I think you need to change the lead-in for SLS delays to “Government inaction!”

  • Calvin G Dodge: I think most people get the pun. In fact, you did!

  • LocalFluff

    This is like some ancient Wagnerian curse on the trolls of NASA to forever slave with building that which will never fly. An inexplicable divine punishment for NASA’s irrevocable feat and feet on the Moon.

  • Captain Emeritus

    How many of these rockets does NASA expect not to build?
    How many Orbiter motors are available for conversion to this use?
    Will they open up the old production lines to produce more expendable motors?
    Perhaps, at the right time, SpaceX could just rent them a few previously flown Falcon Heavies to fly their little capsule around.

  • mike shupp

    Well, yeah. And what exactly is it that SLS is going to to make possible? Will we put colonies on the moon with it? Will we send explorers off to step on Mars? Will we begin mining the asteroids, or scrutinizing Venus for the assets that might make that planet worth inhabiting?

    And if we aren’t going to do this stuff — and it isn’t even slightly imaginable that such things will become American goals — why should we throw money at NASA and pretend we’re racing toward such goals?

    Drag things out. Boston Red Sox fans don’t see a World Series every year, Los Angeles Dodger fans don’t. And somehow the country survives. Tax payers will endure.

  • wodun

    Captain Emeritus
    October 26, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    How many of these rockets does NASA expect not to build?

    I think they have enough old engines for four launches and are building six more for a fifth flight. The six engines are just an initial order and they will be able to make more. The contract went out at the end of 2016 and I am not sure when they will begin construction. https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2016/01/nasa-defends-restart-rs-25-production/

  • wodun

    mike shupp
    October 26, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Well, yeah. And what exactly is it that SLS is going to to make possible?

    Aside from the cost, this is the main problem with SLS, it only makes things possible for NASA. SLS doesn’t help grow the space industry because no one can use it but NASA. This isn’t exactly true because NanoRacks would use it but it is true in the sense no one can buy an SLS launch and SLS isn’t marketed to other customers.

  • wodun

    So, here is my prediction: They are preparing us for the fact that the first unmanned flight will likely slip into 2020, which means the first manned flight slips for certain into 2023, as I have been predicting for the past three years.

    I am sure they will find a way to delay commercial crew so the SLS delays don’t look so bad.

  • LocalFluff

    How would NanoRacks use SLS? Sounds like a bad fit size wise.
    I doubt any secondary payload at all will be allowed on the SLS since they all will be crewed after the test and Europa Clipper launches, according to the crazy plans. The Deeply Lunatic Space Gateway will be completely useless for commercial space. No one, except Lunar astronomers, would be interested in putting any cubesat in Lunar orbit. And if the Deep Noway is put in an unstable Lissajous orbit, I suppose that a cubesat would soon weer off in an unpredictable trajectory, since secondary payloads are not allowed to carry rocket fuel for station keeping.

  • LocalFluff: Now these variations on the name of the Deep Space Gateway I like! Most humorous.

  • LocalFluff

    I read on Space News that EU is suggesting to forbid hydrazine from 2021, the popular rocket fuel for station keeping satellites. For environmental reasons, of course. The EU uses 20 tons of hydrazine for space flight a year. World production is 120,000 tons. Environmentalists don’t like to use numbers.

    Wouldn’t that be a problem since they now develop Orion’s service module which has propulsion with hydrazine? Less competition for US private space, anyway. The world’s largest satellite manufacturer is SES in Luxembourg, EU. It will be a circus, a very slow one, to follow these clowns cooperate on the DSG, with some corrupt Russian in it too. Just perfect, how could this fail hard?

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