LAS CRUCES, NM – NASA has not yet set a launch date for the first test flight of its long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS) megaocket, which the agency plans to use to send astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. And it looks like more delays can be just around the corner.
Although NASA said this summer that its new rocket would finally lift by the end of 2020, the first mission could slip by mid-2021, said Ken Bowersox, NASA's acting associate administrator for human exploration and operations, in a presentation here at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) on October 10.
That mission, known as Artemis 1, will send an untouched spacecraft from Orion on a journey around the moon. After the first test flight, NASA aims to launch Artemis 2 ̵
In 2024, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon's surface for the Artemis 3 mission. And between these two manned Artemis missions, NASA plans to use an SLS rocket to launch the robotic Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter to the extent of Europe.
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NASA is still officially targeting 2020 for the launch of Artemis 1, but this timeline assumes that everything goes according to plan during the tests the agency will implement in the next year or so.
"The schedule we succeed in is very, very aggressive," Bowersox said. He added that the SLS core step will probably be completed by the end of this year, after which it will be sent to NASA's Stennis Space Center for testing, which should take about five or six months at best. "But then there are risks like weather, and then we do not know how much renovation we may need to do to the stage after we have driven these engines for a full flight time and a test flight, so we think conservatively we can take a few extra months to do some of that work. "
" In the very best case, we have a chance to actually have a rocket on the cushion and launch at the end of next year, but when you start throwing all these different insecurities, it's more likely that we moves out to 2021. "
According to Bowersox, NASA will come up with a new official launch target after the agency hires a new associate administrator for human exploration and operations; that position was held by Bill Gerstenmaier from 2010 until about three months ago, when he was re-assigned as Special Advisor to NASA's Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. Although it is not clear exactly when NASA will fill Gerstenmayer's old position, Bowersox said he expects NASA officials to make a decision within the next few weeks.