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February 10, 2016

NASA Rocket Could Miss 2017 Test Flight Date, Report Says

One of NASA’s major projects is building its heavy lift rocket, called the Space Launch System. It’s scheduled for its first test flight in 2017, but the Government Accountability Office says the program risks not meeting that date.

“While the technical challenges associated with those efforts appear manageable, the compressed development schedule in conjunction with the agency’s relatively flat funding profile for SLS through 2017 place the program at high risk of missing the planned December 2017 launch date for the EM-1 initial test flight,” the report from the government watchdog concludes.

The report states that the agency’s current funding plan for the rocket could be $400 million less than what it actually needs to launch by 2017.

And, while the rocket has a second flight in the pipeline for 2021, there’s also the issue of not knowing what happens after that, which places the rocket program at risk of making “uninformed decisions,” according to the report:

NASA is waiting for additional policy direction on future missions, but the agency is approaching a crossroads wherein it is confronted with defining a developmental path forward to the more capable variants of SLS. Without identifying a range of mission possibilities and their required funding, the program is at risk of making uninformed decisions and pursuing development paths that may not make the most efficient use of limited resources in the near term and could negatively impact longer term affordability.

NASA says it wants to send humans to Mars in the long term and has proposed a mission to redirect an asteroid as a stepping stone (a proposal that’s Republicans on the Hill don’t like). But the agency hasn’t yet “finalized plans for the next step in evolving the SLS,” and that risks spending resources on systems that aren’t yet needed, the report states.

Among the GAO’s recommendations: NASA could delay that first test flight or increase funding to allow the program to “establish cost and schedule baselines for demonstration of the initial capability at the 70 percent confidence level,” the report states.

  • Malcolm Kantzler

    One thing they had better make sure the SLS can do is meet all possible mission criteria for intercept and deflection of NEA objects. When the threat materializes, you don’t want to have to be looking at launch-vehicle development as part of the solution to prevent catastrophe.

  • cdevboy

    This article suggests that NASA is waiting to define the exact configuration of the full version of SLS to fit whatever mission is picked by the administration. SLS was sold as the heavy lift rocket to take us to the Moon, Mars, and “Deep Space”. It should therefore be designed to handle all heavy lift missions. It should also be a relatively modular systems depending on how much mission hardware is required. the configuration should begin with a core stage with a modular upper stage. as More lift is required, booster rockets are added followed by more powerful upper stages or modular ones that can be stacked.

    Any attempt to design SLS to one mission design will be a disaster in the long run.

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