NASA’s next-gen spacecraft, Orion, was originally scheduled to launch with astronauts aboard in 2021, but owing to the space agency’s history of running into unexpected problems, it has decided to delay this important test flight by two years.

The $6.77 billion Orion project is an effort to expand human space exploration, including possible missions to Mars and beyond. Last December, an Orion test capsule flew a near-flawless mission. Once complete, the 11-foot capsule will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System (SLS), a powerful megarocket still under development.

Advertisement

It now appears, however, that we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for this dream to become a reality.

After performing a review of its own development history and assessing future challenges, mission planners have decided to delay the first human-occupied launch by two years. NASA identified some potential software and hardware problems that could interfere with the original timeline. Of particular concern is the reliance on the re-use of certain components in multiple tests, and the time it’ll take to replace any failing parts. NASA is still hopeful that a launch in 2021 is possible, but the space agency isn’t banking on it.

“Right now we’re not seeing any issues in those areas, but we have to account for those because we’ve got a lot of runway in front of us before we get there and those things could pop up,” noted NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot in a BBC article.

Advertisement

To which NASA senior executive Bill Gerstenmaier added: “I think we’re being somewhat conservative. My teams will tell you they’re trying to work every risk that’s out there. Every risk that the Standard Review Board has identified—we think we can handle those risks. But if you look at the complexities of what we’re doing building this spacecraft, there will be some unknowns that show up, and to protect for those we went with the later date, the 2023.”

Read more at BBC


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by NASA/JPL