With a mid-2020 Administration deadline for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) fast approaching, NASA tasked its Launch Services Program (LSP) to study commercial launch alternatives for sending its Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit on an uncrewed test flight.
Delays in the assembly and test schedule for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster assigned to launch EM-1 precipitated the start of a flurry of activity in early March to try to find other ways to make sure the mission will liftoff in 2020. Ultimately, SLS won, beating the alternatives – such as a fully expendable Falcon Heavy – as the best option to launch EM-1 per the provided guidelines.
EM-1 is the first Orion solo mission, but its second test flight and many elements of its configuration are already stable. The EM-1 spacecraft is also being closed out for launch ahead of a multi-month test campaign later this year at Plum Brook Station in Ohio, and LSP had to take these factors and more into consideration in looking at the feasibility of the proposal, above and beyond the question of launch vehicle lift capabilities.
The two-week feasibility study had elements that were familiar to LSP, but also ones that were unusual. The ...