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NASA reconfirms 2019 will see first launch of Space Launch System

If nothing goes wrong with biggest rocket ever, which is only a little over budget

Vid NASA has reconfirmed it hopes to stage the first flight of its Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft in December 2019, but also conceded such a big build could run late.

The agency has announced the outcome of the latest review of its launch schedule for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), following its previous assessment that crewed missions would have to wait until at least 2020.

NASA says the current review had to take into account “building the core stage of the world's most powerful rocket for the first time, issues with manufacturing and supplying Orion’s first European service module, and tornado damage at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.”

NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot is still optimistic about the December 2019 launch, saying that “several of the key risks identified have not been actually realised”.

Importantly, given the long history of cost blowouts in space projects, NASA reckons the EM-1 costs are still within 15 per cent of budget, with ground systems slightly above that.

3D printing fans get a dose of validation, with the NASA statement noting that more than 100 parts of the Orion spacecraft use additive manufacturing.

“SLS has completed welding on all the major structures for the mission”, the statement continues, meaning a “green run” engine test (all four RS-25 engines firing at once) will soon take place.

With things apparently running smoothly, NASA's Marshall Center blew some of its media budget on an animation (complete with suitably-heroic music) of what it wants the SLS launch to look like:

And if things go wrong, there's every chance that astronauts will be able to escape the Orion module, as revealed in this video of an evacuation test. ®

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