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Industry Stresses Need for Continued SLS, Orion Crew Capsule Funding

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing in September on "Examining NASA's Development of the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule" at which representatives from industry testified that Orion is currently advancing toward its Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in 2014. EFT-1 mission will fly an unmanned Orion spacecraft aboard an existing Delta-IV Heavy launch vehicle from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to test systems on Orion needed for a high-energy return for missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Industry representatives testified that it is important that Congress maintain FY 2013 funding at the current level to ensure timely and successful implementation of EFT-1 in 2014.

With regard to SLS, industry representatives testified that the separation of product development from technology development increased its confidence in the heavy launch vehicle's schedule and cost predictions relative to starting from scratch. For example, the core stage engines are heritage Space Shuttle main engines; the strap-on boosters are upgraded solid rocket boosters from the Space Shuttle program; and the SLS Block 1 interim upper stage is directly adapted from the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle. The core stage is a clean sheet design, but leans heavily on existing design practice and manufacturing technologies.

Members of Congress probed officials from NASA and industry about how the upcoming six-month Continuing Resolution (CR) would affect SLS and Orion development. NASA is planning for a spend rate of 50 percent of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations levels, but NASA officials said there was uncertainty in the potential budget for the remainder of the FY 2013. Industry representatives testified that CRs add difficulty to their programs, but it is something they plan around.

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