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In confirming that the first unmanned flight of SLS will not occur until 2019, Todd May, head of the Marshall Space Flight Center, also indicated today that the first manned flight cannot occur any sooner than 33 months after that.
May was speaking at an industry meeting in Washington, DC today. According to the article, May tried to sell the idea that the launch date for the first unmanned mission, while still officially December 2018, is going to be delayed into 2019 and a new date will be announced “soon.” This is false. NASA revealed weeks ago that the the first unmanned flight has been delayed until the fourth quarter of 2019, likely in December.
The important detail from May’s remarks, however, is this:
The first launch with a crew, EM-2, currently cannot take place for at least 33 months after the first because it will take that long to reconfigure the Mobile Transporter at Kennedy Space Center to accommodate an upgraded version of SLS with a new, taller, upper stage. [emphasis mine]
Thirty-three months after December 2019 places the first manned launch as taking place no earlier than September 2022. I have emphasized the words “at least” because we can all be certain that this work will take longer than 33 months. I predict once again that the first manned flight will not occur in 2022. It will take place in 2023, nineteen years after President George Bush proposed it.