NASA slips Orion EM-1 readiness to 2018

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An uncrewed flight of NASA's Orion crew capsule atop the agency's new Space Launch System (SLS) in December 2017 has slipped into calendar year 2018, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA, which is developing a service module for Orion, attributes the delay to development setbacks experienced by both agencies. Since signing an agreement with NASA in January 2013, ESA and prime contractor Airbus Defense and Space have been working on the service module, which is based on the recently-retired Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo tug. But the project suffered a series of technical issues last year that pushed the service module preliminary design review back by about 10 months.

In the meantime, NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin have struggled with developent challenges of their own, notably with efforts to reduce the mass of the spacecraft, which remains a top program risk. Constrained funding also threatens the program, and has forced the agency to defer key tests of the capsule's launch abort system that could ultimately lead to cost increases and schedule delays, should any unexpected technical issues arise.

A precise launch date for the 2018 flight test has not been set, though after evaluating the results of today's Orion EFT-1 flight, NASA is expected to determine a new launch date by late spring 2015.

NASA will also evalute the readiness of the SLS launch system and associated ground systems before setting a new date for the so-called EM-1 mission. In September the agency slipped the first flight of the new rocket from the previously targeted date in December 2017 to no later than November 2018 based on a model being used for the first time in a human exploration program to assess various development risks.

“We will hit the ground systems next and then do Orion in early 2015. At that point, we will bring the three elements together to assess readiness for EM-1,” says NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in September.

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