Capitalism in space: Faced with endless delays that will likely prevent the first scheduled launch of SLS in June 2020, NASA is now considering using commercially purchased rockets to send the Orion capsule and European service module on that same mission.
NASA now believes the Space Launch System will not be ready for the EM-1 test flight by June 2020, the program’s most recent target launch date. Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said Wednesday the space agency is weighing alternatives to keep the Orion spacecraft on track for a lunar mission in 2020 to test the capsule’s European-built power and propulsion module, and assess the performance of the crew capsule’s heat shield during blistering re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere from the moon.
“Some of those options would include launching the Orion crew capsule and the European service module on a commercial rocket,” Bridenstine said in a hearing with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Bridenstine said it is important for NASA to stick to its commitment to launch EM-1 by June 2020, and his announcement Wednesday marked the first time a NASA leader has publicly discussed launching the Orion spacecraft’s first lunar mission on a commercial rocket, and not the more expensive government-run Space Launch System. “Certainly, there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities to put the Orion crew capsule and the European service module in orbit around the moon by June of 2020, which was our originally-stated objective, and I’ve tasked the agency to look into how we might accomplish that objective,” Bridenstine said.
Because Orion and its service module are so heavy they cannot be launched by a single Falcon Heavy rocket. However, that rocket could easily put everything in orbit in two launches, where the two parts could dock together.
There is still a problem with this plan, according to Bridenstine:
“I want to be clear. We do not have, right now, an ability to dock the Orion crew capsule with anything in orbit. So between now and June of 2020, we would have to make that a reality.”
I find this fact incredible. NASA built Orion without the capability to maneuver and dock with other spacecraft? If this is true, it shows once again the outright incompetence of anything our federal government does, including NASA.
Regardless, Bridenstine’s announcement is very good news. If Orion is launched on that 2020 first test mission using commercial rockets, it will demonstrate clearly the uselessness of the expensive and very delayed SLS. It will also make it politically easier to consider shutting it down, before it eats up more funds.
More important, this statement by Bridenstine indicates that there are many people in the Trump administration that have come to this same conclusion. This statement also means that they are beginning to make the political moves necessary to make the cancellation of SLS possible.
My July fund-raising campaign for 2021 has now ended. Thank you all for your donations and subscriptions. While this year’s campaign was not as spectacular as last year’s, it was the second best July campaign since I began this website.
And if you have not yet donated or subscribed, and you think what I write here is worth your support, you can still do so. I depend on this support to remain independent and free to write what I believe, without any pressure from others. Nor do I accept advertisements, or use oppressive social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. I depend wholly on the direct support of my readers.
If you choose to help, you can contribute via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:
If Patreon or Paypal don't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
Cortaro, AZ 85652