NASA Administrator Bridenstine Reassures SLS and Orion Workforce on EM-1 Commercial Launch Alternative ahead of 5th Space Council Meeting

Aspirational concept of Gateway crewed lunar
outpost shown by
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as he announces
NASA’s 2020 budget request from the Trump Administration to NASA employees,
contractors and the media at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 11,
2019. 
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
Ken Kremer  SpaceUpClose.com &
RocketSTEM
–25 March 2019


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  An update on the startling proposal by NASA Jim Bridenstine to consider launching the Orion
Crew Capsule’s 1st lunar test flight in mid-2020 on commercial launch
vehicles – as a sudden late in the game alternative to using the mammoth but
much delayed Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket currently under development
by the agency – could come as early as Tuesday March 26 at the next meeting of the National
Space Council; chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.



During congressional testimony at the US Senate on March 13
– and just 2 days after announcing NASA’s FY 2020 budget Bridenstine said NASA is
actively investigating purchasing two heavy lift ‘commercial launch vehicles’ to
match the lifting capability required for an ‘Orion to the Moon’ mission as a replacement
for what would be the first SLS rocket launch.



The goal is to still accomplish the launch sometime before the
end of 2020, in a race against time to keep the agency on track for a human
return to the Moon for the first time since the last Apollo Moon landing in
1972.



NASA Administrator Jim
Bridenstine is scheduled to speak and address his Orion commercial launch
vehicle proposal at the 5th meeting of the National Space Council
taking place Tuesday, March 26 convening at the
U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 


The meeting will focus on the Trump
Administration’s plans to send humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond starting in
the next decade. 



You can watch and listen live to all the details at NASA Television
the agency’s website as presented at the 5th
meeting of the National
Space Council  starting at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, March 26. 
Vice President Mike Pence addresses a meeting of the National Space
Council in the high bay of the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s
Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Feb. 21, 2018. Chaired by the Vice
President, the council heard testimony from representatives from civil space, commercial
space and national security space industry representatives, backdropped by the
NASA Orion, Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon crew vehicles. 
Credit:
Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

Bridenstine announced the commercial launch alternative proposal
after learning that SLS development was again way behind schedule and unable to
meet the mid 2020 launch target date for the 1st integrated flight
of SLS and Orion on the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) on a three week journey
around the Moon and back.



“Yesterday,
I was asked by Congress about the schedule slip of the Space Launch System and
plans to get NASA back on track,” Bridenstine said in a NASA blog statement on
March 14. 



“I
mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the
European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket,
then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our
goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS
for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021.”



NASA officials
at HQ and field centers like KSC, JSC, Michoud, Marshall and more have been
intensively studying options during overtime over the past two weeks. 



We
are studying this approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will
take no longer than two weeks and the results will be made available,”
Bridenstine elaborated.



Presumably
we hear the initial study results at the March 26 space council meeting.

Orion EM-1 Crew Module under construction at NASA’s Kennedy
Space Center (KSC) in Florida by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
 Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Bridenstine is rightly concerned that political support
from the President and Congress could wane with further delays to the maiden
launch of SLS under development by NASA with Boeing serving as the Prime
Contractor.



The Orion crew module and European Service Module stack is currently
on target to launch in mid-2020.



Manufacture of the SLS megarocket is the holdup to an on
time launch next year. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announces NASA’s 2020
budget request from the Trump Administration to NASA employees and the media at
the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 11, 2019. 
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Its important to note that Bridenstine is not abandoning SLS
– not yet anyways. In fact he is proposing an exciting alternative to Orion EM-1
for the SLS-1 launch that would involve launching a component of the Lunar
Gateway – such as a habitation module.



If the SLS-1 payload is switched to the Gateway Habitation
module, then the 1st crewed Orion on the SLS-2/EM-2 mission could
dock there as soon as 2022. 

Aspirational concept of Gateway crewed lunar
outpost shown by
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as he announces
NASA’s 2020 budget request from the Trump Administration to NASA employees and the media at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 11,
2019. 
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

On March 13, Bridenstine outlined the alternative
to SLS option further in response to a question from Senator Wicker- which is likely
to involve private rockets from both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA). 



The commercial rockets likely would be the
SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch the combined Orion Crew and Service Modules. The
ULA Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V are potential candidates to launch the ICPS upper
stage required to propel Orion to the Moon – plus a docking adapter. 



Thereafter they have to dock by an as yet
unknown method. A new docking adapter would have to be designed, developed and
built.



Or perhaps some existing hardware sitting idly
by in the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at the Kennedy Space Center
(KSC) could be repurposed. Node 4 and three shuttle docking collars are
potentially available if feasible. 



The ULA Delta IV Heavy commercial rocket was already
used to launch the very first Orion Crew Capsule on the Exploration Flight
Test-1 (EFT-1) mission back in Dec. 2014. But the Delta IV Heavy rocket is not
powerful enough to launch the heavy weight of the Orion Crew capsule combined with
a fully outfitted European Service Module (ESM).



Here is the full statement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine:


Yesterday, I was asked by Congress about the
schedule slip of the Space Launch System and plans to get NASA back on track. I
mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the
European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket,
then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our
goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS
for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021. This would get us back
on schedule for a crewed lunar orbital mission in 2022 with the added bonus of
a lunar destination for our astronauts.



We are studying this
approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will take no longer than
two weeks and the results will be made available.
Please know that NASA is committed to building
and flying the SLS for the following reasons:

1.    
Launching two
heavy-lift rockets to get Orion to the Moon is not optimum or sustainable.

2.    
Docking crewed
vehicles in Earth orbit to get to the Moon adds complexity and risk that is
undesirable.

3.    
SLS mitigates these
challenges and allows crew and payloads to get to the Moon, and eventually to
Mars, safer and more efficiently than any temporary solution used to get back
on track.

I believe in the strength of our workforce and
our ability to utilize every tool available to achieve our objectives. Our goal
is to get to the Moon sustainably and on to Mars. With your focused efforts,
and unmatched talent, the possibility of achieving this objective is real.



Ad astra,


Jim Bridenstine


…..
Watch for Ken’s
continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin,
Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy
Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight
Facility, Virginia.



Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and
Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer
– email: ken at kenkremer.com



Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the
KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about
space topics.

.……….
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events


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upcoming talks:



Apr 3:
“Exploring Mars; The Search for Life & A Journey in 3-D.”  7 PM, Lawton C
Johnson
Middle School, Summit, NJ: 
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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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