Monday, 23 October, 2017

NASA Considering Adding Crew to Maiden Flight of New Megarocket

Mike Hodges | 27 February, 2017, 00:15

"Our priority is to ensure the safe and effective execution of all our planned exploration missions with the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket", said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's human exploration and operations mission directorate.

The SLS rocket is now scheduled to make its debut flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), in sometime in late 2018 or early 2019.

Under the current plan, a crewed SLS mission will follow with EM-2 sometime between 2021 and 2023. Now 55 years later, President Trump is asking NASA to return.

Hardware for the first flight has already started arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where the missions will launch from the agency's historic Pad 39B. "If the feasibility study doesn't pan out, we still have a very exciting mission". NASA plans to send the spacecraft into a distant lunar retrograde orbit during the first mission of SLS and Orion.

If approved, the astronauts would fly aboard an Orion capsule, under development by Lockheed Martin Corp, and swing around the moon during an eight- to nine-day mission, similar to what the Apollo 8 crew accomplished in 1968.

Robert Lightfoot, who was previously the space agency's acting Associate Administrator, has asked staff to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. "We also recognize we'll need to add some additional funding".

While the new mission wouldn't be filled with groundbreaking scientific firsts like its predecessor was almost 50 years ago, it could offer advantages to NASA.

The capsule will be propelled to space atop a rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which is now being developed. Getting the test flights out of the way early could let the real work begin quicker than expected. With commercial rocket firms including United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and Blue Origin promising to put nearly-as-powerful but significantly cheaper products on the market in the years ahead, many wonder if NASA should be putting so much of its resources into projects they may be quickly outmoded.

NASA will finalize its report in a month.

"NASA should provide a compelling rationale in terms of benefits gained in return for accepting additional risk, and fully and transparently acknowledge the tradeoffs being made", said Sanders.


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