NASA and Industry Teams Set for Orion Launch in 2014 and SLS First Flight in 2017

Flying in its 'Block I' configuration, with four Space Shuttle-era Main Engines, a pair of five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters and a Delta-derived interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (iCPS), the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) in December 2017 will despatch the first crew-capable vehicle to the Moon since the Apollo era. Image Credit: NASA
Flying in its ‘Block I’ configuration, with four Space Shuttle-era Main Engines, a pair of five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters and a Delta-derived interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (iCPS), the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) in December 2017 will despatch the first crew-capable vehicle to the Moon since the Apollo era. Image Credit: NASA

The biggest accomplishments on the next-generation deep space programs will take place this year, including Orion’s first mission, Space Launch System (SLS) booster and engine firing, and the opening of the SLS Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) – all important steps in preparing for deep space human exploration missions.


NASA’s SLS and Orion four prime contractors met recently at an industry-team meeting to discuss progress to date and ensure the teams are on track for the 2014 and 2017 launches.


“This year, we take our first step to deep space with the launch of Orion,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Civil Space. “Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 will test systems most critical to crew safety so that we can lower risks and safely carry humans into deep space on future missions.”


As Lockheed Martin and NASA prepare for the launch this fall of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft, the SLS industry team is also gearing up for an important year on the path to deep space exploration, including producing flight test hardware and bringing the SLS VAC online at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.


Boeing will begin acceptance testing and confidence welding on the SLS VAC this summer. The VAC welds together sections of the core stage, such as barrels, rings and domes, for a complete cryogenic stage. Boeing is responsible for the design, development, manufacture, test and assembly of the core stage and avionics for the SLS, and remains within budget and ahead of schedule.


Less than two years into the program, Boeing is tracking toward conducting core stage Critical Design Review (CDR) up to five months ahead of schedule with active structures at production capacity and component hardware and software in qualification build and test phases. In partnership with NASA, Boeing continues delivering on-target technical and safety performance and development progress ahead of schedule and within budget.


“It is amazing to look at where we are today and what we’ve been able to accomplish given the challenging budget environment we’ve faced over the past couple of years,” said John Elbon, vice president and general manager, Boeing Space Exploration. “We are encouraged by the commitment we’ve seen in the 2014 budget, and with continued support to these programs, we will take the world farther into deep space than ever before.”


ATK’s  SLS booster program is on schedule to meet the 2017 launch date. In 2014, ATK will conduct a full-scale ground test as well as component design reviews. The company has effectively incorporated lean manufacturing in consolidation of processes, procedures and facilities. ATK has reduced the booster manufacturing time by 46 percent and is building the rocket with one-fourth the work force that was required for the space shuttle.


Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp company, will conduct its first SLS RS-25 core stage engine hot fire test in July of this year, three months ahead of schedule. This adaptation testing series of the RS-25 will demonstrate the engine can perform under SLS mission conditions. Additionally, the RS-25 engine controller recently completed a CDR and integrated testing is underway. The company continues to make significant progress toward SLS affordability by consolidating its manufacturing footprint by 60 percent, demonstrating advanced low-cost additive manufacturing technologies, and securing a sustainable supply chain using common key suppliers.


“The SLS and Orion industry teams are fully supportive of each other as we are helping create spacecraft that will carry a new generation to the stars,” said Jim Paulsen, vice president & deputy program manager, Advanced Space and Launch Programs. “The combined team is working in new ways and doing more with less in order to meet our commitments for deep space exploration.”


NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit, and enable humans to visit an asteroid and eventually Mars. Designed to be flexible for crew or cargo missions, the two will provide a safe, affordable and sustainable way to continue America’s journey of discovery from the unique vantage point of space.


“The events happening this year are incredibly important steps in the development of NASA’s deep space vehicles,” said Charlie Precourt, general manager and vice president for ATK Space Launch Division, and former four-time shuttle astronaut. “SLS and Orion are redefining what is possible for human space exploration as we prepare the way for those first boot prints on Mars.”


To learn more about the SLS and Orion teams, visit:

Aerojet Rocketdyne at 
ATK at 
Boeing at 
Lockheed Martin at

To explore the team supporting deep space missions, visit the SLS and Orion supplier map at:

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  1. I have been hammering on Rick Boozer at that link for his article and comments in response to issues and points raised by readers.

    The theme Boozer and others make is that Orion and SLS are too expensive to use and will never be finished within their respective budgets. As a basis for their claims they cite a Booz, Allen, Hamilton report commissioned in by NASA 2011.

    The thing is, the BAH report doesn’t support claims that Orion or SLS are too expensive to operate or will not be completed within their proposed budgets. Instead, the BAH report states that NASA’s budget projections for Orion and SLS are valid for 3-5 years, after which the dependability if those budget projections degrades because of changes during that period. What Boozer and other won’t say is that no numbers are given in the BAH report.

    They essentially are reading the BAH report and filling-in what they want, not what is stated.

    Like many Orion and SLS opponents, Boozer tried to paint a picture that is simply not supported by what few documents they cite. And as I’ve confronted him on this, he says I’m disrespectful. Maybe he’s right; I readily admit to having trouble suffering politely those making specious arguments.

    My goal on this site began with one mission; to counter-act the spread erroneous nonsense about Orion and SLS to prevent anyone, Boozer or otherwise, trying to make the untrue and erroneous the truth. Because of readers like you, we can do that.

  2. Thank you so much. For awhile there (as publiusr), I thought I was the only one speaking out in defense of shuttle-derived heavy lift.

    Falcon Heavy has no more of a shroud diameter than does Delta IV, and no hydrogen capacity.

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