In two separate public appearances last week, the manager of NASA’s Orion spacecraft warned that he is “challenged” to keep Orion on track for the first Space Launch System (SLS) mission in late 2017.
Mark Geyer spoke at the Mars Society’s annual conference in Houston on Saturday, one day after SLS program manager Todd May said his program had several months of schedule slack on its critical path to Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) inaugural launch. Asked about how much slack he had on Orion towards EM-1, Geyer was more cautionary. “We’re going to be challenged to make December ’17,” he said. “By the end of this fall, we’ll be able to define that” date after working through preliminary design reviews for the program.
Geyer said the challenges were rooted in two key issues. One was the decision to incorporate a flight test, designated EFT-1, slated for launch on a Delta IV Heavy this December without adding funding to the overall program. “That did affect my ability to start EM-1 as early as I wanted to,” he said. The other was bringing the European Space Agency into the program as the supplier of the Orion service module. “They’re doing a terrific job, but they had some challenges,” he said.
“We felt it was more important to build a flight unit and fly it because we’re going to learn so much about what the risks are,” he added about the decision to do the EFT-1 mission. “To us, it was worth the potential impact on EM-1.”
Earlier last week, Geyer offered similar warnings about the Orion schedule at the AIAA Space 2014 conference in San Diego. “We’re struggling to make December 2017, and I have a lot of challenges to make that date,” Geyer told Space News. He cited potential schedule issues with ESA’s service module as a key factor in that overall schedule challenge.
Other reports have suggested a delay—perhaps as much as nine months—is already in the works for EM-1. An article last month by NASASpaceFlight.com, citing an internal NASA document, claimed the schedule for EM-1 had slipped to September 2018. However, the same document also had EM-2 moved up from 2021 to the very end of 2020: December 31.