WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s surprise announcement March 13 that NASA is considering moving Exploration Mission 1 off of the Space Launch System took many in the industry by surprise, but some have reacted by defending the use of the SLS.
Bridenstine, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, said the agency was looking at using a pair of commercial launch vehicles, likely provided by SpaceX and/or United Launch Alliance, to launch the Orion spacecraft and an upper stage that would propel the uncrewed spacecraft to the moon.
The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry group whose members include companies involved in development of both SLS and Orion, also defended the use of the SLS for Orion missions.
Lucas later asked one of the witnesses, former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, about development of more powerful versions of the SLS and plans in the administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, released March 11, to defer work on the Block 1B version of the SLS with its more powerful Exploration Upper Stage.
James didn’t note that the administration’s budget proposal for 2020 proposed moving the Europa Clipper mission, one such outer planets mission that had been planning to use the SLS, to a commercial launch vehicle, citing a savings of more than $700 million.