NASA publicly floated the idea this week of setting aside its big new rocket in favor of a commercial one for a launch around the moon next year.
Space Launch System (SLS) “is struggling to meet its deadline,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday. “I think we should launch around the moon in June of 2020 and I think it can be done. We need to consider as an agency all options to accomplish that objective. Some of those options would include launching the Orion Crew Capsule and European Service Module on a commercial rocket.”
NASA has been planning what it calls “Exploration Mission 1″ (EM-1) to be the big debut of its new spaceship, Orion, and its huge SLS rocket for next June. EM-1 would see SLS send an uncrewed Orion into space from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. A second stage rocket would then be used to propel Orion to an orbit around the moon for about six days before returning to Earth.
Orion and SLS are now a decade in the making, and in that same span of time, SpaceX has turned the commercial launch industry on its head with its cheaper, reusable rockets and the successful demonstration of Falcon Heavy.
Now, NASA’s deadline…