NASA Mars rocket launch date slips, again, to late 2019, possibly 2020

First Orion flight with crew pushed to 2023

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

NASA¹s Space Launch System rocket will launch with Orion atop it from Launch Complex 39B at NASA's modernized spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The journey to Mars is facing another time delay, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said Wednesday.

The launch of NASA’s monster rocket that will hopefully one day send humans to Mars is delayed again after the most recent review of the launch schedule.

The first test launch from Cape Canaveral of  the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1 was pushed back from the beginning of 2019 to no earlier than December 2019, with the possibility of another delay, due to manufacturing and production, until June 2020.

In May, NASA delayed the launch of EM-1 from 2018 to 2019.

“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,” Lightfoot said in a news release. “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.”

The delay comes after the completion of a crew study in which the Trump administration asked NASA to explore adding astronauts to the first flight, in addition to “challenges related to building the core stage,” the agency said. NASA officials determined the cost and time to add crew to EM-1 would outweigh the benefit. The first mission will be un-crewed, as originally planned.

The first crewed flight of Orion, called EM-2, has also been pushed to 2023.

Despite the new timeframe, agency officials still say “the majority of work on NASA’s new deep space-exploration systems is on track.”

SLS will eventually launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with the Orion spacecraft to Mars and beyond, according to  officials with the space agency.

In EM-1 Orion will launch from KSC's Launch Complex 39B to orbit the moon in a six-day trip before returning to Earth.

The space center is on track with ground systems and infrastructure, including modifications to the Vehicle Assembly Building and a mobile launch platform.

KSC “will be able to accommodate the evolving needs of SLS, Orion and the rockets and spacecraft of commercial partners for more flexible, affordable and responsive national launch capabilities,” according to NASA officals.

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