ALL NEWS

NASA considers sidelining its Boeing-built rocket for an upcoming Moon mission

Mar 25, 2019, 6:51 AM | Updated: 7:04 am
In the face of more frustrating delays with the rocket Boeing is building for NASA, the space agenc...
In the face of more frustrating delays with the rocket Boeing is building for NASA, the space agency will decide how to launch an upcoming Moon mission.

(CNN) — In the face of more frustrating delays with the rocket Boeing is building for NASA, the space agency will decide how to launch an upcoming Moon mission.

NASA is expected to announce this week whether it will sideline its long-overdue rocket, Space Launch System, and instead use commercial launch vehicles. The space agency contracted Boeing in 2012 to build SLS’s core components.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made a stunning announcement during a Senate hearing on March 13 that the space agency would weigh buying rockets like those made by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

That consideration was necessary, he said, because SLS was facing new hangups that threatened to upend plans to launch its Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight around the Moon in mid-2020.

It was the first time an agency official suggested publicly that existing heavy-lift rockets could get the job done. The news emboldened critics who say NASA doesn’t need to spend billions on SLS to reach many of its goals.

But NASA is not abandoning its rocket. Bridenstine reiterated NASA’s long-term commitment to SLS, saying it remained “critical” to US spacefight ambitions because of its size: The rocket would far out-power anything currently on the market and open up new opportunities such as landing people on Mars.

For the sake of avoiding more embarrassing delays for Orion’s upcoming test flight, however, Bridenstine said NASA would spend two weeks reviewing other launch options for that mission.

The results are expected to be made public in the next few days, and it’s not clear what NASA will decide.

Boeing spokeswoman Patricia Soloveichik said Saturday that the company “had some breakthroughs in manufacturing innovations” and will be able to deliver its components on time. A NASA spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend.

SLS, Boeing and commercial space

NASA wants to eventually use SLS to launch humans into deep space for the first time in a half century. The rocket promises to be the mightiest ever built, able to produce up to 20% more thrust than the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo missions.

Boeing started building the core stage, the backbone of the rocket, about seven years ago. Officials said SLS would be ready to fly the Orion capsule on its uncrewed lunar mission, dubbed EM-1, in December 2017.

But that target was eventually pushed back to at least mid-2020.

An oversight report published five months ago blasted “Boeing’s poor performance” and said cost overruns are expected to double the company’s expenses, to at least $8.9 billion, by 2022. NASA had already spent at least $11.9 billion on SLS.

The space agency said at the time that it “fully supports” SLS and Boeing, and the program was showing “major improvements in efficiency and management.”

But NASA officials were reportedly furious when they met with Boeing executives earlier this month. They said hangups could push SLS’s debut into late 2021, according to the Washington Post. (CNN Business was not able to independently verify the report. A Boeing spokesperson said she was unfamiliar with the conversations.)

When Administrator Bridenstine faced Congress on March 13, he said more delays would be unacceptable and pledged to consider “all options” for launching EM-1 by the 2020 deadline.

“Certainly, there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities,” he said, suggesting two heavy-lift rockets could be used in place of SLS. One rocket could launch Orion, he suggested, and another could launch the service module designed to power the capsule out to the Moon.

That could lower the launch price: SLS will reportedly cost $1 billion per flight, while two SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets could cost less than $200 million. But NASA would have to sink time and money into developing a way to mate Orion with its service module while in orbit.

Two days after the hearing, Bridenstine said in a tweet that NASA and Boeing “are working overtime to accelerate” SLS development.

“If achievable, this is the preferred option for our first exploration mission,” he said, though he added that NASA is still considering alternatives.

If SLS is back on track, it would be welcome news for Boeing. News of more SLS delays were widely interpreted as another big blow for the company, which was already facing a hailstorm of bad press surrounding the 737 Max controversy.

NASA is also expected to announce that Boeing is falling further behind on another multibillion-dollar NASA contract: a spacecraft called Starliner that’s designed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival will make its in-person comeback from July 28 to Aug. 7. Courte...
Devin Oldroyd

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival is coming back to Salt Lake City

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival will make its in-person comeback from July 28 to Aug. 7.
23 hours ago
Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. Photo credit: Uta...
Devin Oldroyd

Hogle Zoo welcomes new Red Panda in effort to conserve the species

Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. It hopes to breed her with Mow Mow, a red panda currently living there.
23 hours ago
Delta Pilots Protest....
Aimee Cobabe

Delta pilots picketing in Salt Lake City and across the country

The Delta pilots said they are trying to put increased pressure on the airline to speed up contract negotiations. Leading in areas such as pay.
23 hours ago
Animal Shelter...
Amie Schaeffer

Keeping pets safe during firework season

Salt Lake County Animal Services gives tips to keep pets safe during fireworks to keep them calm and protected.
23 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
23 hours ago
A Rite Aid logo is displayed on its store...
HALELUYA HADERO, AP Reporter

Amazon, Rite Aid cap purchase of emergency contraceptives

Retailers limiting purchases is standard practice that helps retailers prevent stockpiling and reselling at higher prices.
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
NASA considers sidelining its Boeing-built rocket for an upcoming Moon mission