US space agency on Friday announced that it is likely to delay first two missions of its Orion deep-space capsule due to technical and financial issues. Technical as well as budget challenges were cited as reason behind the delay by report of NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
NASA Orion spacecraft is being developed with an aim to send astronauts beyond the orbit of the Earth and eventually move them to the red planet.
The first Orion spacecraft will be launched atop the planned Space Launch System, or SLS. As soon as it will be launched, it will become the most powerful rocket in the world. The first of the two launches is scheduled for early November 2018, and it won’t have a crew.
The second Mars mission that will carry astronauts has been planned for August 2021 at the earliest.
However, “NASA’s initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars—EM-1 and EM-2 -- face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates,” the report said of the conclusions from a nine-month audit.
The report has cited the delays in the development of the service module of Orion that are provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). It also cites technical risks from the changes in the design of the heat shield of the capsule.
The report also says that there are delays in development of software for the SLS, Orion and ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“We are concerned NASA will not be able to resolve all necessary software validation and verification efforts in time to meet a November 2018 launch date for EM-1,” the report said.
By the end of fiscal year 2018, the total cost for the SLS, Orion and ground systems development programs is likely to reach some $23 billion. Manned exploration of Mars is expected to exceed $33 billion by 2033.
In February, the White House had asked the NASA to carry out a feasibility study of the cost, safety and technical constraints of adding astronauts to the first Orion mission in late 2018.
The report also questions the feasibility of NASA’s plans to launch a manned mission to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s. The agency has not provided target mission dates for a manned orbit of Mars or landings on the planet’s surface or nearby moon, it said.
To achieve its goal of sending humans to the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s, NASA must carry out “significant development work on key systems such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles” in the 2020s, the report added.
“The Agency will need to make these and many other decisions in the next 5 years or so for that to happen.”
(With inputs from PTI)