A proposed plan to put a crew on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the 2019 first launch of NASA’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule has been scrapped due to lack of both resources and funding.
NASA and White House officials agreed to stick with the original plan of an un-crewed first launch for EM-1, with a crewed launch taking place on EM-2 in an upgraded SLS and Orion two years later.
Putting a crew on the initial launch is risky and would cost NASA an additional $900 million, the agency concluded.
The notion of making EM-1 a crewed mission was considered early this year at the request of the Trump Administration.
Orion could be revamped to accommodate a crew of two, but that would mean adding life support systems, crew displays, a launch abort system, and several other features, for a total cost ranging from $600 to $900 million.
“At the end of the day, we found it technically feasible to fly a crew on EM-1 as long as we had a commitment of additional resources and schedule, and recognizing the technical risks we identified still were going to need a mitigation plan,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot stated.
“It really reaffirmed the baseline plan we had in place was the best way for us to go. Leave EM-1 un-crewed.”
SLS will carry the empty Orion capsule in a three-week flight that will take it past the Moon, then bring it back to splash down in the ocean.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the total cost of the un-crewed first EM-1 launch known as Block 1, including the development of the SLS, will be approximately $23 billion.
The giant rocket will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust, 15 percent more than the Saturn V that launched the Apollo Moon missions.
It will be capable of carrying 154,000 pounds of cargo into low-Earth orbit.
Block 2, the upgraded SLS scheduled for a crewed launch in 2021, will have 9.2 million pounds of thrust, including strap-on boosters.
SLS is being developed with the ultimate goal of launching astronauts to Mars.