Tomorrow the first Orion mission should be under way, however the future for Orion and it’s carrier rocket Space Launch System (SLS) is not guaranteed. The first flight for SLS is still four years away maybe sooner if they can finish the rocket faster but given the number of delays already it seems more likely that it could be delayed further.
Unfortunately before then there will be another Presidential election and there is no telling what the new President will do. In a previous article I talked about the cost of SLS/Orion, that will fact into any decisions that a new administration makes. The first crewed flight is not scheduled until some time in the early 2020’s, by which time we could be on a second new President.
By the first crewed launch, baring launches by other space agencies or commercial companies, it will have been almost 50 years since a crewed mission went beyond Low Earth Orbit. There is also speculation that another test flight may be needed as the upper stage for the crewed mission will not have flown before and current flight rules require at last one test flight before a human crew is aboard.
Beyond that there are other missions that have been discussed but nothing has been finalized, proposals include a robotic mission to Europa, Mars Sample Return mission, Deep Space Habitat, etc. For a full list of current proposals check out the Wikipedia page here.
We believe there is a place for SLS in the future of manned missions beyond Earth but are concerned with the cost so far to build SLS and Orion and whether future governments will be willing to fund it long term.
We have deliberately avoided comparing launch costs with that of SpaceX or Boeing and their commercial crew proposals for several reasons:-
- SLS/Orion is not designed to fly to the International Space Station
- SLS/Orion doesn’t currently have a published per launch cost making any comparisons impossible to determine.
- SLS/Orion is designed for deep space and due to that has heavier components than on the commercial crew solutions.
The next update will be tomorrow after the launch of EFT-1