NASA spent a lot of time hyping up the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in recent memory. It will be a breakthrough transportation system capable of both heavy-lifting and deep space missions, and NASA bills it as the “most powerful rocket” they’ve ever built.
Image Credit: NASA
During its initial flight, which NASA refers to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), SLS will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into space to test the rocket’s performance and dependability.
On paper, everything sounds great; on the other hand, current events have underscored complexities in the SLS’s development.
Production delays and tight budget constraints continue pushing the SLS’s deadlines further into the future. The initial delay, announced earlier this year, shifted the space agency’s late-2018 launch estimate to early-2019. But an even newer announcement pushes that date into late-2019 or mid-2020 at best.
The latest review factored every new hurdle in realizing the SLS rocket, and NASA cites two distinct reasons for the newfangled delays. The first was a problem in creating Orion’s first European service module, while the second is related to tornado damage NASA sustained at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” said Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator.
“Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”
As Lightfoot puts it, NASA strives to have an SLS rocket prepared for a test launch by 2019 rather than 2020.
Apart from the few technical difficulties, every other aspect of the SLS’s production seems to be going as planned. The engines that will power the behemoth rocket have already been test-fired, and specific parts of the SLS rocket are undergoing manufacturing as of this writing.
To help make up for lost time in regards to the delays, NASA is tweaking its schedule to complete some of the Orion spacecraft’s preliminary testing, which will be a significant step in testing its safety equipment for future crewed missions.
It should be interesting to see when NASA will finally complete the SLS rocket, but only time will tell.