The first launch date of NASA's much-anticipated Space Launch System (SLS) rocket could be delayed until 2020, stated a recent review report of the launch schedule by the space agency.
However, the American space agency hopes that it will be able to launch an uncrewed mission by the end of 2019. The Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for NASA's human deep space exploration goals. The recent review followed an earlier assessment, where NASA had evaluated the expenses, risk and technical factors of adding human crew to the mission. Finally, the agency had affirmed the original plan to fly EM-1 uncrewed.
"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," said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "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," Lightfoot said in the recent review report.
The Orion spacecraft has been designed to take the astronauts to deep space destinations. According to NASA, the agency plans to accelerate a test of Orion's launch abort system ahead of EM-1, and they are targeting April 2019. The test, named Ascent-Abort 2, will validate the launch abort system's capability to get crew to safety if necessary during ascent. Moving the test date ahead of EM-1 will reduce the risk for the first flight with a crew, which remains on track for 2023, NASA said.