NASA pushes first flight of Orion spacecraft with crew to 2023

September 16, 2015 byMarcia Dunn
NASA pushes 1st flight of Orion spacecraft with crew to 2023
In this Sept. 5, 2015 photo made available by NASA, Lockheed Martin engineers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La., perform the first weld on the Orion spacecraft pressure vessel for Exploration Mission-1. This is the third pressure Orion pressure vessel built. On Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, top NASA officials said there isn't much confidence in the original 2021 launch date. That's because of the space agency's history of running into unexpected problems in new programs, like Orion. Managers set 2023 as the new official launch date, although they said they haven't given up yet on 2021. (Radislav Sinyak/NASA via AP)

NASA's newest spacecraft, the Orion, won't be flying astronauts as soon as anticipated.

On Wednesday, top NASA officials said there isn't much confidence in the original 2021 launch date. That's because of the space agency's history of running into unexpected problems in new programs, like Orion.

Managers set 2023 as the new official launch date for the capsule, although they said they haven't entirely given up yet on 2021.

Orion is meant to expand human exploration in space, principally Mars. The 11-foot capsule will blast off atop a megarocket still under development by NASA, called SLS for Space Launch System. An unmanned test flight of Orion and the new SLS rocket is still on schedule for 2018.

The spacecraft sailed through its first test flight in December. Nonetheless, managers said they want to be conservative in what lies ahead.

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said there were too many variables to calculate the chance of meeting a 2021 launch. But he noted during a teleconference with reporters: "It's not a very high confidence level, I'll tell you that, just because of the things we've seen historically pop up."

Software development typically can cause delays, as can the reuse of test hardware. While there are no setbacks in these areas yet, Lightfoot said, "but we have to account for those because we've got a lot of runway in front of us here before we get there, and those things could pop up." He called these "unknown unknowns."

NASA has already spent $4.7 billion on Orion and is committing $6.7 billion more in development costs from October to Orion's first crewed flight by 2023. That first flight with astronauts will be to check out Orion's crew systems close to Earth, especially the life-support equipment. The capsule is designed to hold four astronauts.

On the second crewed mission, NASA will push deeper into space, perhaps the far side of the moon, said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations. He envisions the area around the moon as a prime testing ground for yearly missions. Another possible destination: an asteroid.

The ultimate prize is Mars in the 2030s—and, eventually, beyond.

NASA is focusing on Orion and SLS, while letting commercial space companies handle routine supply runs to the International Space Station. The goal is to get private companies—specifically SpaceX and Boeing—to start delivering American astronauts as well in 2017. Until then, Russia is doing all the crew transport.

Orion is NASA's first new spacecraft for humans in more than a generation, succeeding the now-retired space shuttles.

Explore further: First pieces of NASA's Orion for next mission come together

More information: NASA: www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/orion/index.html

Related Stories

First pieces of NASA's Orion for next mission come together

September 9, 2015

NASA is another small step closer to sending astronauts on a journey to Mars. On Saturday, engineers at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module ...

Recommended for you

Stellar thief is the surviving companion to a supernova

April 26, 2018

Seventeen years ago, astronomers witnessed a supernova go off 40 million light-years away in the galaxy called NGC 7424, located in the southern constellation Grus, the Crane. Now, in the fading afterglow of that explosion, ...

Powerful flare detected on an M-dwarf star

April 25, 2018

An international team of astronomers reports the finding of ASASSN-18di—a powerful white-light superflare on a previously undetected, mid-type M-dwarf star. The discovery is detailed in a paper published April 12 on the ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesG
3.6 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2015
That's alright. SpaceX or one of the other commercial providers will take up the slack and probably for half the price and in half the time.
EyeNStein
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2015
With the experience of Apollo and the shuttle under their belts you would think they could do better. Its more likely that every component and its testing generates a snowstorm of paperwork which takes years to wade trough.
ScottyB
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2015
This will have been a total waste of money by the time it is finished and flight ready. Dragon and star-liner will have been in service for a while by the time they even do their test flights.

Shocking NASA, shocking!
Elmo_McGillicutty
1 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2015
The only science that NASA does is political science. And falsify data. Shut it down.
patgrumpy
4.4 / 5 (7) Sep 18, 2015
The commentators don't appear to have read the article. The Orion spacecraft is intended for space exploration, not shuttling passengers into low Earth orbit.
antigoracle
3 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2015
NASA has become an unmotivated and uninspiring white elephant.
ScottyB
not rated yet Sep 21, 2015
The commentators don't appear to have read the article. The Orion spacecraft is intended for space exploration, not shuttling passengers into low Earth orbit.

And that is exactly what Dragon V2 is designed for. Landing on Mars etc..
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2015
The commentators don't appear to have read the article. The Orion spacecraft is intended for space exploration, not shuttling passengers into low Earth orbit.

Unless someone authorises expenditure for the "deep space habitat" module, the Orion capsule isn't going anywhere beyond the moon. Its just too small. (50% bigger than Apollo and 33% more crew.)
With the Deep Space habitat, and extra propulsion, its is far heavier and more expensive than the USA and NASA have the balls for at present.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.