It has been speculated for a while if NASA's Space Launch System rocket would launch as planned in November 2018, or whether the space agency would delay the same.
On Thursday, April 27, a NASA official confirmed in a letter that the rumors of the delay were true and that the SLS rocket would miss its 2018 launch date.
The official affirmed that the launch date of the SLS rocket was postponed to 2019. However, the space agency did not detail the exact time window for the rocket's proposed launch.
According to a new audit the Government Accountability Office performed, NASA lacks the funding and resources to pull off a November 2018 launch. The GAO's audit also revealed that apart from the unavailability of money and time, NASA is also facing a string of technical problems which is causing the agency further issues in maintaining the initial launch timeframe.
The GAO asked the agency to draft a report to Congress, letting them know whether NASA would be able to launch the SLS rocket on time. On Thursday, the associate administrator for human exploration at NASA, Bill Gerstenmaier, confirmed what many had already predicted — the SLS rocket launch would be delayed to 2019.
"We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," Gerstenmaier stated.
What Seems To Be The Problem?
NASA is working on three different programs that are essential for the SLS launch. These include the rocket itself, a crew capsule called Orion, and the exploration ground systems or EGS at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The GAO audit uncovered that each of these programs were facing certain challenges, which greatly reduced their chances of being ready by November 2018.
The GAO report stated that the Orion capsule's European Service Module was delayed, which caused an overall deferral of the program.
When it comes to the SLS rocket, NASA had to stop work on it for some time as the welding on its body faced certain issues. However, the work on the rocket resumed in April.
The EGS, on the other hand, would require hardware installation and testing. This would increase the complexity of the program and possibly take up more time.
The Future Of SLS
NASA will now move forward with the new targeted launch window, but will have to fix all the issues that have plagued its plans. The first journey of the rocket is supposed to be unmanned, but some rumors indicate that the agency is also trying to send humans to space. However, NASA has not confirmed these speculations.
Sending a manned crew on the very first SLS mission would likely cause further complications and delay, neither of which NASA needs at present.