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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.