|It's baseline development all but complete, the Orion MPV is on track to be the capstone of a return to American civilian heavy-lift spaceflight in 2017, if the US commitment to commercial low-Earth orbit crew transfers lives up to it hopes [NASA].|
The debut of the Space Launch System (SLS) will send the Orion (MPCV) on a 7-10 day mission to the Moon, with an aim to qualify the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) and Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) Orion to carry humans into deep space. Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) involves sending Orion around the far side of the Moon, prior to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
|Pitch over, at T L I-plus 20 minutes|
SLS-1 – EM-1: With a launch date of December 17, 2017, the historic mission will aim to hand NASA a Christmas present of becoming a successful pathfinder for crewed flights on the new spacecraft, in turn providing a baseline for a return to exploration in deep space for the first time since the 1970s.
Launch date slips are a natural part of the space launch business, although the development roadmap for the SLS shows a large amount of schedule mitigation through the key review milestones leading up to the opening mission.
Ironically, the main threat to the schedule target may be due to problems unrelated to Orion or the SLS. This is due to the law of the 2010 Authorization Act, which requires SLS and Orion to provide a back-up role for the International Space Station (ISS), in the event of major disruption in the Commercial Crew arena.
This would be an undesirable situation for all concerned, not least because the 70mt SLS and BEO Orion would be vastly overpowered – and economically overpriced – for the role of lofting astronauts to the orbital outpost in Low Earth Orbit. At the same time, it would mean the Commercial Crew partners would have failed to achieve their designated role several years after the initial target of 2015.
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