Lockheed Martin has gotten some attention this week with a proposal to conduct an unmanned Orion test flight as early as 2013. The test flight, using a Delta 4 Heavy launched from Cape Canaveral, would put the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit; the Orion would later splash down off the California coast. This is not the first time Lockheed Martin has talked about being ready to do an Orion test flight circa 2013, but this time they’ve provided more details, including identifying the launch vehicle.
However, a Wall Street Journal article Thursday (subscription required) suggests that Lockheed’s proposal could run into Congressional opposition. “[T]hose plans may run into flak as Republican lawmakers take control of House committees and subcommittees that oversee NASA,” the article claims, citing unnamed industry sources (at least some of whom, according to the article, work for Lockheed competitors). The article goes on state that those members of Congress “may view the proposed test flight as circumventing congressional language to quickly develop a new heavy-lift NASA rocket able to transport astronauts past low-earth orbit.”
The Journal article cites a couple of members in particular, Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), the likely new chairs of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee and House Appropriations Committee CJS subcommittee respectively, as likely opponents, although neither provide any comments to the newspaper suggesting they would oppose such a test. The article goes on to state that “biggest battle” may be whether an improved Delta 4, “packing more power and certified safe enough to carry astronauts”, could be a candidate for the heavy-lift launcher outlined in the new authorization act. That, however, may conflate two separate issues: human-rating the Delta 4 to carry Orion (as proposed by ULA in its Augustine Committee testimony last year) and upgrading the Delta 4 (or Atlas 5) for cargo-only heavy-lift missions.