Surprise! First unmanned launch of SLS might be delayed until 2020

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Yawn. NASA admitted today that the first unmanned launch of SLS, set for December 2019, might be delayed until June 2020.

NASA’s review considered challenges related to building the SLS rocket’s core stage, issues with constructing Orion’s first European service module and tornado damage at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, NASA officials said in a statement.

“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date,” Lightfoot added.

Gee, only yesterday I thought I was going out on a limb to say that the first manned flight of SLS wouldn’t happen until 2024. It looks like I wasn’t going very far out on that limb. If the first unmanned mission doesn’t happen until June 2020, the next SLS launch (using its own second stage for the first time) cannot happen until around April 2023. That mission will likely be unmanned, launching Europa Clipper. The third SLS flight, as yet unbudgeted by Congress, would then fly humans, and will likely be scheduled for 2024, though I am certain that will be an unrealistic launch date.

More likely the first manned flight of SLS will not occur before 2025, twenty-one years after George Bush first proposed it and fourteen years after the last shuttle flight. By that time the cost for this boondoggle will have risen to more than $50 billion.

2025 is about seven years in the future. I will also bet in that time both SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rockets will have become operational, with both flying manned capsules. In fact, I expect them both to send human capsules to the Moon several times before SLS even gets its first manned flight off the ground. And they will do it for about a tenth the cost.

So obviously, our Congress and President know what to do! They are going to double down on SLS, pouring more money into this black hole, while making another decade of false promises about it that will never be fulfilled. Based on everything I have read coming from NASA and the National Space Council, I would be fooling myself to think otherwise.



  • LocalFluff

    I suppose the president want NASA to bring him some kind of glory, like the priests of ancient Rome, during his rule (and being 71 actually during his lifetime). Be it even as modest as launching astronauts on this Saturn V class launcher. I can imagine that it looks like a great beginning for a new space age for politicians who don’t have much attention to spare for the subject.

    But 2024 is too late! I would think that a president notices that schedule and concludes that this will be no good for him. No space glory, no JFK moment. “-What the heck else do you have?”

  • LocalFluff

    “- So this piece of, ehum frozen beryllium glass, will photograph the first stars that ever lightened up the universe? Now. Although they are older than rocks. Fantastic! Tremendous! Whatever.”

    (Mental note to self: Has to look into Secret Service management. Why are they letting madmen coming this close to me? NASA seems to be part of some kind of health care plan.)

  • Mark

    It’ll never fly.

  • geoffcc


    I still bet on an initial single flight, then cancelled as soon as BFS/BFR becomes close to operational. (Might be a fight even after BFR/BFS is in service. Pork never dies!)

  • LocalFluff

    Talking about pork. When pigs fly.

  • Edward

    I haven’t been keeping track, but if SLS is being delayed year-for-year, then Mark is right, at least as the schedule flies.

    The schedule moving to the right, like this, is a poor portent.

  • Edward: I have strongly believed that SLS will likely never fly more than once, if that, for almost five years now. It costs too much, takes too long, and cannot compete with too many alternative options that are cheaper and faster. The facts are so obvious that even Congressmen, Senators, and Presidents will eventually figure them out.

  • Edward

    Flying once is starting to look optimistic.

  • ken anthony

    Flying would be a failure of the program which is working perfectly for those directly affected.

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