Friday, August 21, 2015

Tick Tock

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Click the arrow to watch the WKMG-TV Channel 6 Orlando coverage of the SLS mobile launcher media event.

Kennedy Space Center held a media event August 19 to promote the latest step in its remodelling of the former Ares Mobile Launcher into a platform for the Space Launch System.

The first SLS launch is designated Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1. Currently scheduled for late 2018, EM-1 will be an uncrewed test flight to demonstrate not only the rocket but also send the Orion crew capsule on a three-week mission in an orbit beyond the Moon. To fly that orbit, Orion will use a service module built by the European Space Agency.

SLS won't go anywhere without the Orion. Orion won't go anywhere without the ESA service module.

When Congress imposed the SLS on NASA in the agency's 2010 authorization act, it mandated the first test flight had to be by the end of 2016. Both NASA and an independent audit warned that deadline was not feasible, but Congress ignored them.

A year ago, on August 27, NASA announced that SLS had slipped another year to November 2018. Technically speaking, the agency has “a 70% confidence level” that the booster will be ready by that date.

The print edition of the August 20, 2015 Florida Today reported that the SLS mobile launcher is scheduled to roll into the Vehicle Assembly Building for testing in January 2017.

Reporter James Dean concluded, “The agency has not committed to when Orion, which has major systems provided by the European Space Agency, should be ready to fly.”

On March 5, I wrote that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testified in a Congressional hearing that Orion would slip to “sometime after 2018.”

The second flight for us will come in sometime after 2018, to be precise. And the reason that I say “sometime after 2018” is we will tell this Congress much more precisely sometime this summer when we finish with the next milestone on Orion itself ...

SLS, ground systems are ready now for a, we have a launch readiness date of late 2018, so that's in place. We don't have a launch readiness date yet for Orion.

A NASA inspector general audit released later that month also suggested that Orion would not meet the November 2018 deadline.

So here we are on August 21, 2015, and we've yet to hear a word about Orion's schedule.

An August 12 NASA press release stated that the agency had begun its Critical Design Review (CDR) of Orion. The CDR “is targeted for completion in late October.”

So instead of summer as Administrator Bolden had suggested, now we may have to wait until the fall for the inevitable announcement of yet another delay.

No rush.

As for the ESA service module, Spaceflight Now reported August 3 that a NASA executive stated, “The European service module will probably be the pacing item to get through launch.”

An August 18 blog article by The Planetary Society quoted the same executive:

At KSC, Orion faces 18 months of integration and testing before it is ready to fly. Hill said the November 2018 SLS launch deadline is still feasible, but he hopes to get the ESA portion of the work finished sooner rather than later. “We’re working with them and trying to pull the schedule to the left,” he said.

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