NASA has delayed the first launch of its heavy-payload rocket until 2019 and decided against an idea floated by the White House to put astronauts aboard the capsule that is set to fly around the moon, the U.S. space agency said on Friday.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had already delayed the original launch target of Dec 2016 (set in 2010) to November 2018. The rocket will send the deep-space Orion capsule on a high lunar orbit.
Adding systems to support a crew would have cost NASA $600 million to $900 million more and would likely have delayed the flight to 2020.
Even without a crew, the SLS will not be ready to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida until 2019, Lightfoot said, adding that the agency would have a more specific timeframe in about a month.
The delay would push back the rocket's second flight beyond 2021.
By the end of the next fiscal year on September 30, 2018, NASA will have spent $23 billion on the rocket, capsule, launch site and support systems, according to an audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General.
That excludes $9 billion spent on the mothballed Constellation lunar exploration program, which included initial development of the Orion and a second heavy-lift rocket.
Initially, the SLS rocket, which uses engines left over from the space shuttle program and shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters, will have the capacity to put about 77 tons (70 metric tons) into an orbit about 100 miles (160 km) above Earth.
NASA Gerstenmaier said the SLC was NOT pushing state-of-the-art technology, like main engines sitting underneath the rocket or new solid rocket boosters. But they were pushing a lot of new manufacturing. The new manufacturing has caused some of the delays we've seen. No one welds the way that they are welding material at the thicknesses they are welding.