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NASA's 'Most Powerful Rocket' Space Launch System (SLS) Flight Pushed to 2019, EM-1 Mission Also Delayed

May 02, 2017 12:51 PM EDT
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NASA's powerful rocket, the Space Launch System won't execute its maiden flight in 2018. The mission was delayed to 2019 due to limited time remaining to complete tests for the first Exploration Mission (EM-1).
(Photo : NASA Marshall Center/YouTube Screenshot)

NASA is going all out in order to make interplanetary travel possible in the next few years or the next decade. However, its most powerful rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), set to launch in 2018, has been delayed to 2019.

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) made the announcement during a report to the congressional committees. GAO published a report called "NASA Space Exploration: Delay Likely for First Exploration Mission."

"We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier said in a statement.

According to GAO's report, NASA is working on a trio of projects namely the most powerful rocket ever built (the Space Launch System or SLS), the Orion spacecraft and the EGS to support ground systems. The success of all three will dictate whether or not the first Exploration Mission (EM-1) could make it to its 2018 launch date.

GAO assessed whether or not the agency is ready for the EM-1 mission. Findings suggest that NASA should put a hold on its SLS mission.

"NASA concurred with both recommendations and agreed that EM-1 will be delayed," a GAO official said in the published report.

Based on the report, there is not enough time to complete all other necessary preparations and test launches before the EM-1 mission starts in 2018. This is the basis why NASA and GAO agreed on the delay of the Space Launch System's (SLS) first flight. SLS will have to fly twice carrying the Orion spacecraft and the EGC system before the actual EM-1 mission.

GAO also cited specific concerns as to why the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) should be pushed back. According to GAO, the progress of the Orion module is also delayed, a key part of EM-1 mission because the Orion will transport the crew across planets. The assessment identified low weld strength and it forced the agency to halt welding of the SLS fuel tank. Also, there are "complexities" with the EGS program that still needs to be sorted out.

Despite the delay, it looks like NASA has the support of the current administration and the mission is likely to push through when everything is sorted out. The world may not see the first flight of the most powerful rocket ever built just yet, but it is expected to soar in 2019.

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