CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. The first manned test flight of NASA's new deep-space Orion capsule faces a likely two-year-year delay until 2023 due to development and budget concerns, officials with the U.S. space agency said on Wednesday.
The capsule, along with its multibillion-dollar heavy lift launcher, are the most expensive parts of a long-term U.S. human space exploration initiative leading toward a crew landing on Mars in the mid-2030s.
NASA had been aiming for its first crew test flight of Orion in August 2021. But on a conference call Wednesday, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told reporters the agency had lost confidence in that date.
Given technical, financial and management hurdles the capsule will face during development, he said an April 2023 launch date now seemed more likely.
NASA plans to spend another $6.77 billion between October 2015 and April 2023 for two of the new Orion capsules, which are currently under development by lead contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
The agency has already has paid $4.7 billion for Orion design and development, Lightfoot said.
He said an unmanned Orion was still scheduled for liftoff in December 2018, carried aloft by a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that is the focus of a separate $7 billion development effort.
NASA intends to first test an Orion capsule in a lunar orbit, then use it for a mission to rendezvous with a boulder that has been robotically plucked from the surface of an asteroid and positioned into an distant orbit around the moon.
“We’re really trying to build a program,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “Ultimately, we’d like to get where we’re flying these missions about once per year.”
NASA last year announced an expected year-long schedule slip for the debut flight of the SLS rocket, previously targeted for November 2017.
So far, the agency has not provided cost estimates for any missions or production cost beyond the first test flight of Orion, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report issued in July.
NASA spent about $9 billion between 2005 and 2010 on a previous human space exploration initiative called Constellation. That included $5.8 billion for an earlier version of Orion.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by David Adams and Tom Brown)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.Academia just turned a little more glitzy for a select group of scientists.
Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on Sunday handed out seven Breakthrough Prizes, the award for scientific accomplishment he created three years ago alongside technology giants including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The prizes are worth $3 million, around three times the sum a Nobel Prize winner receives.
For one group of Breakthrough recipients, the honor will carry more prestige than cash. Some 1370 physicists are being honored as part of a single $3 million prize for their work confirming the theory of neutrino oscillation, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.
Seven team leaders will split two-thirds of the prize. That leaves $1 million to split among the others, or around $700 to each physicist.
"I would love to give $3 million to each one, but we're not there yet," Milner said in an interview on Friday. Increasingly, he added, breakthroughs are made through vast consortiums rather than a handful of scientists working in relative isolation, raising the chances of such shared prizes in future.
Five prizes went to researchers in life sciences for advances in areas ranging from optogenetics to sequencing of ancient genomes. A prize in mathematics went to a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for work in low dimensional topology and geometric group theory.
Eight scientists early in their mathematics and physics careers won awards of $100,000.
Milner has set his sights on giving the sciences the same cultural resonance as sports or entertainment, but on Friday, he said it was too early to see if his work was having any effect. He pointed to the ceremony's broadcast on a major U.S. network, Fox, for the first time as a sign things were moving in the right direction.
A onetime physics PhD student in Moscow who dropped out to move to the United States in 1990, Milner has backed some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit TV series “Family Guy,” is hosted the black-tie ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
Hollywood celebrities like pop star Christina Aguilera hobnobbed with Silicon Valley celebrities like Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood-testing company has come under fire in recent weeks. News Corp.O> chief executive Rupert Murdoch sat next to Gen. David Petraeus.
Singer Pharrell Williams serenaded the audience before dinner, created by chef Thomas Keller. Other celebrities milling about included actress Hilary Swank and cast members of the TV show "Silicon Valley."
Earlier this year, Milner said he would spend $100 million looking for intelligent life in space by searching for radio and light signals.
(This story corrects paragraph 3 to physicists instead of physicians.)
(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Andrew Hay)