It's no secret that NASA's space system is struggling to meet its schedule. The multi-billion-dollar starter is expected to transfer people and cargo into deep space. The problem is that the agency is committed to sending an American craft to the Moon next year. NASA's new moon taxi, called Orion, is almost complete. But his ride, the big and bloated SLS, is still years before it's over.
On Wednesday morning, NASA Administrator Jim Britindine appeared before the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Committee to discuss America's leadership in space. During his testimony he revealed an unexpected turn. For the first time, Bridgetin said the agency would consider commercial missiles to remove the crew capsule. For NASA, the journey to deep space will no longer be SLS-or-bust.
"We now understand better how difficult this project is," he explains. In 201
Its first opening was originally set for 2018. , but this date is o will drop to 2019, then 2020, and now officials are not even sure that the deadline is feasible, but Bridenstina told Congress that NASA wants to hit. its deadlines. "I want to be really clear," he said. "I think we as an agency must stick to our commitment. If we tell you that we're going to launch in June 2020 around the moon, I think we have to launch around the moon in June 2020. "
To meet these deadlines, the administrator admitted that all should be considered options , including commercial missiles. Bridenstine's comments were unexpected; For nearly a decade, NASA has supported a single approach to SLS to send astronauts into deep space. (The Agency initially restricted its trading partners from sending crews no further than the low Earth orbit and vice versa). But with extremely tight deadlines and numerous technical delays, it is now clear that SLS will almost certainly not be ready to fly by 2020.
Over the years Orion's destination has changed from Mars to the Moon and even to the surface of an asteroid. But one thing was certain: at Orion's first raid across the Earth, a non-crewed capsule would have completed a six-day chain on the Moon; this is the mission that Bridenstine can now launch on a commercial missile. Headed "Exploration Mission 1" (or EM-1), it was also designed for the first SLS journey.
Hold that Orion is too heavy for every used commercial vehicle to deposit it into the moon's orbit. Bridenstine admits this in their testimony: "The challenge is that we currently have no missile to launch Orion and the European Module for servicing the moon." (Created by the European Space Agency, the service module will provide Orion power).
"This is what the SLA is for," he added.
Instead, Bridence has suggested that the mission can be accomplished in stages. First, a missile will send Orion and the European Service Module into orbit around the Earth; a second missile would have started a higher stage separately. This rocket will have to meet the duo in orbit and raise them to the moon. But it's also easier to say than to do because the docking technology needed to remove it still does not exist. "Between now and June 2020, we will have to make it a reality," said Bridence
But Bridental did not say which missiles would perform such a mission. Currently, only two vehicles can carry large volumes of cargo into space: Falcon Heavy and Delta IV Heavy at the United Launch Alliance.
Falcon Heavy, who debuted last year, has been carrying only one Tesla for orbit, while the 2014 Delta IV Heavy was carrying plenty of payloads, including the removed version of the Orion spacecraft. (The heavy-rocket launched the capsule on a four-hour tour around the Earth on an experimental flight known as Study Field Study – 1.)
Moving to a commercial missile for EM-1 would lead to a serious SLS hit criticizes that it has a huge budget – about $ 14 billion – and rapid development of the snail. But with Falcon Heavy's debut, the reason for that is less and less clear. (Falcon Heavy can deliver nearly 141,000 pounds on low ground orbit, while Delta IV can carry 62,540 pounds and SLS theoretical 209,000 pounds). If the NASA can send Orion to the back of private missiles, it is likely that future crew missions that were planned for SLS could also. (Bridentalna told Congress that the agency would consider the commercial opportunity as soon as possible). Speaking on Monday, the controller explained that other elements of the planned Lunar Gateway, which is essentially a mini space station running around the moon, may also drop into commercial missiles.
But this is not the only stroke for the SLS week. On Monday, the president granted his budget request for 2020. Trump suggested reducing NASA's total budget by two percent or 21 billion dollars. Abbreviations include stopping the development of a second, more powerful version of SLS; an application that removes the rocket of its largest asset: the capacity of the elevator.
However, Brindstedin stressed that SLS is still needed for the future of NASA's Orion's program and deep ambitions. "SLS, the largest missile ever built in American history, is an important part of what the United States needs to build," he told NASA crowd at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday. "We need SLS and we need the Orion crew capsule." a mandate that said he had to fly the SLS. The budget proposal states that using a commercial missile will save NASA over $ 700 million, which will allow the agency to fund many new activities. (The Obama Administration made the same proposal but was denied by Congress.)
As these proposals take away many of the SLS's capabilities, the heavy duty engine remains with only one mission: launching Orion directly into the moon's orbit. But if NASA can launch the required Gateway components, including Orion, into commercial missiles, the SLS case is becoming more and more worthy.
More Large WIRED Stories