Home Science NASA may take first Orion capsule launch from SLS – AL.com

NASA may take first Orion capsule launch from SLS – AL.com

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In a major shift in direction, NASA wants to give the first mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) to commercial rockets, Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday. “The goal is to get back on track,” Bridenstine told a Senate committee.

Bridenstine said NASA found out last week that SLS faces another delay from the original plan to launch for the first time in 2020 on a flight called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1). The rocket’s development is being run by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

‘If I tell you and others we’re going to launch in 2020, around the moon, which is what EM-1 is, I think we should launch around the moon in June of 2020,” Bridenstine said. “And I think it can be done.”

NASA is now studying whether to send its first Orion crew capsule and first European Service Module into space on a big commercial rocket, “launch a second heavy-lift rocket to put an upper stage into orbit around the Earth and then dock those two together to throw around the moon the Orion crew capsule with the European Space Module,” Bridenstine said.

Watch the video below or click here. The Orion conversation starts around minute 20.

“I want to be clear, Bridenstine said, “We do not right now have an ability to dock the Orion crew capsule with anything in orbit. So, between now and 2020, we would have to make that a reality.”

“This is 2019,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss>) interjected, laughing.

“Yes, sir,” Bridenstine replied. “Here’s the glory of the US of A. We have an amazing capability that exists right now that we can use off the shelf to accomplish this objective.” He apparently was referring to 2014, when a Delta IV Heavy rocket built by United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Ala., launched a test Orion capsule on a four-hour experimental trip around Earth.

Bridenstine said SLS remains “a critical piece of what the United States needs to build,” because of what it will be able to lift. But the agency is just now “understanding how difficult this project is and that it is going to take some additional time,” he said, adding that second launch of Orion with a crew should still belong to SLS.

The idea of using commercial boosters quickly met with skepticism from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “While I agree that the delay in the SLS launch schedule is unacceptable,” Shelby said, “I firmly believe that SLS should launch the Orion.”

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