NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has admitted that the maiden launch of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is unlikely to occur before 2021. The maiden SLS launch, which has been designated Artemis-1 will be an uncrewed test of the agency’s Orion spacecraft.
Appearing at the US Senate Commerce Committee, Bridenstine admitted on two occasions that the launch of the maiden SLS mission would slip past the current deadline of 2020. Additionally, on one of the occasions, while answering a question from Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Senator that chairs the committee, Bridenstine seemed to indicate that even a 2021 launch date may be ambitious saying, “I think 2021 is definitely achievable for the Artemis-1 launch vehicle.”
Despite indications that the agency has shifted to a 2021 launch, Bridenstine declined to set a new date until the agency had a chance to fill key roles that had been recently vacated.
“NASA has not been good at setting realistic budget and schedules, and we need to get better at that,” he said. “So before we announce a new date I want to be sure that we have a leadership team in place.”
In addition to the schedule slips, it was also revealed that NASA would likely need additional funding over and above the $2 billion a year the SLS program already receives in order to realistically make a late 2021 launch date. However, Bridenstine was quick to indicate that contributions from commercial partners could be used to mitigate cost overruns.
As the maiden flight of the Artemis-1 mission slips into 2021, the likelihood of the US returning human beings to the surface of the Moon by 2024 seems increasingly unlikely.