Not that it is a big surprise but the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s big rocket that will serve, among other things, to bring human-crewed missions to the Moon again, is delayed at least until 2021.
There has been no official announcement of the postponement. Still, it is in the first sentence of the annotation Simulations are ‘Great Days’ for NASA’s Artemis I Launch Team on launch simulations: “NASA is preparing for the first unmanned flight test next year of the agency’s powerful new rocket and spacecraft in preparation for the Artemis lunar exploration program.”
This is the umpteenth delay in the launch date of this rocket since its final design was closed in 2015. At that time, NASA was planning to launch the first SLS in mid- to late 2018.
This new delay further compromises the Trump administration’s desire to send a human-crewed mission to the surface of the Moon in 2024. In that first launch, the Orion capsule will travel unmanned to enter orbit around the Moon for six days before returning to Earth. The second launch will be the Artemis 2 mission, which is already human-crewed and will fly over the Moon without entering orbit. Next will come to the Artemis 3 mission, which is the one that would have to put two astronauts on the Moon’s surface.
This gives NASA three and a half years to carry out the three missions and meet the 2024 deadline. And while it is true that between the launch of Apollo 8, which is the equivalent of Artemis 2, and Apollo 11, which is the equivalent of Artemis 3, only seven months passed, it is no less accurate that at that time NASA’s budget was around 4.5% of the country’s budget. Today it is barely 0.5%.
Nor should we forget that for Artemis 3 to be able to fulfill its objective of putting astronauts on the surface of the Moon, the first modules of the future lunar orbital station must be in lunar orbit. And none of those modules have been launched yet, although Northrop Grumman and Maxar are already working on them.
And the lander that the crew of Artemis 3 will need to go down to the Moon and come back is out of the question; it’s not yet known who will build it.
(The launch in 2021 was caught on NASASpaceflight).
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