NASA has decided to pursue its original plan to conduct the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft without crew.
The agency said Saturday it is “technically capable” of launching astronauts aboard the Exploration Mission-1 flight test, but it would be difficult to modify plans to make way for a crewed mission at this point.
NASA launched a study in February to explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of flying a crew on EM-1 in 2019.
Engineers will apply lessons learned from the study to the first flight test and integrated systems. NASA noted this is part of a larger effort to expand human exploration across the solar system.
“We’re considering additional ground testing of the heat shield prior to EM-1 as well as the possibility of advancing the ascent abort test for the Orion launch abort system based on findings from the study,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate.
Following a schedule review, NASA also decided to adjust the target launch date of EM-1 in 2019 and identify a new official launch date in the next weeks.
NASA said components for EM-1 are currently being delivered and contractors can move on to the next phase of their work for the crewed Exploration Mission-2.
SLS and Orion flight hardware are in production for both missions and test and development efforts are underway across U.S., according to NASA.