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Fri Mar 15, 2019, 02:22 AM

NASA's Supersize Space Launch System Might Be Doomed

Source: Wired

AMY THOMPSON
SCIENCE
03.14.1907:00 AM

NASA'S SUPERSIZE SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM MIGHT BE DOOMED

IT’S NO SECRET that NASA’s Space Launch System is struggling to meet its schedule. The multibillion-dollar launcher is expected to ferry humans and cargo into deep space. The problem is, the agency has vocally committed to sending an American craft to the moon next year. NASA’s new lunar taxi, called Orion, is almost ready to go. But its ride—the big and bloated SLS—is still years from completion.

On Wednesday morning, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to discuss America’s leadership in space. During his testimony, he revealed an unexpected twist. For the first time, Bridenstine said that the agency would consider commercial rockets to get its crew capsule off the ground. For NASA, travel to deep space would no longer be SLS or bust.

"We are now understanding better how difficult this project is,” he explained. Before the retirement of NASA’s storied space shuttle program, the agency began laying out its vision for its next-generation rocket. In 2011, development began on SLS, which it hoped would become the biggest rocket in the world. But year after year, as it missed its targets and blew through its budgets, the agency faced criticism for the project’s shortcomings. Dubbed the rocket to nowhere by its critics, SLS was at times derided as more of an agencywide jobs program than a real ride to space. That is until 2017, when the rocket received a new goal: ferry astronauts to the moon.

Its inaugural launch was originally set for 2018, but that date soon slipped to 2019, then 2020, and now officials aren’t even sure that timeframe is feasible. But Bridenstine told Congress that he wants NASA to hit its deadlines going forward. “I want to be really clear,” he said. “I think we as an agency need to stick to our commitment. If we tell you, and others, that we’re going to launch in June of 2020 around the moon, I think we should launch around the moon in June of 2020.”

To meet those deadlines, the administrator acknowledged that all options—including commercial rockets—should be considered. ...

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Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/nasas-super-sized-space-launch-system-might-be-doomed/

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