In an exclusive interview with Universe Today, Lockheed Martin’s John Karas announced today that they’ve accelerated NASA’s Orion craft to a 2013 first launch—with a potential 2016 manned lunar flyby!
One of the few pieces of NASA’s Constellation program to survive it’s cancellation, the Orion is the manned vehicle slated to replace (more or less) the Space Shuttle for ventures to the ISS and elsewhere.
Orion has been planned to launch on Lockheed’s Delta IV rocket for 2013, but Congress’ recent push to have NASA develop and launch a Heavy Lift Rocket (HLV) by 2016 has presented some interesting options:
“If we have a heavy lifter, the 2016 flight with the first human crew could be a deep space mission or a lunar fly by lasting more than a week.”- John Karas, VP of Human Space Flight programs, Lockheed Martin; “Lockheed accelerates Orion to Achieve 2013 launch and potential 2016 Manned Lunar Fly-By“, Ken Kremer, UniverseToday.com
A manned lunar fly-by in 2016 is a huge development!
For comparison, the original Constellation timeline had a manned lunar fly-by in…2019. So this would actually be three years earlier than Constellation would have been! With the first 2013 Orion flight being about a year faster.
Granted, this assumes the new NASA HLV rocket stays on track, but even if the timeline’s delayed two full years, it still beats the slated Constellation mark.
As far as a lunar landing, part of this speedier timeline is related to the Altair lander having been axed with Constellation; the program’s first Orion lunar flight would have included a landing. But it’s not out of the question a lander could be developed by private space or even within NASA before long; even multiple-year delays would still put this timeline to around Constellation’s.
At this stage, it looks like NASA might end up having hardly missed a beat on its way back to the Moon. The universe takes funny turns sometimes…who knew cancelling your program got you to your destination faster? ;)