Nasa has quietly made public that the development of its giant rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is now budgeted at $9.1 bn (£7bn). Ground systems to support the mission are budgeted at a further $2.4bn. As pointed out by Ars Technica, the new development cost represents a 33% increase in the cost of the mission.
In 2017, Nasa set itself the target to launch the SLS rocket in the December 2019-June 2020 window, with a total cost of $7.17 bn. The first launch of the SLS will now be an uncrewed test in which the rocket will propel Nasa’s newly developed Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle on a 25-and-a-half day journey to the moon and back. Scheduled to take place in November 2021, it will be the first test flight in Nasa’s Artemis programme, which is designed to land astronauts on the moon with its third mission, slated for 2024.
During the November 2021 test flight, the Orion capsule will spend six days in lunar orbit. The core stage of the SLS rocket that will propel the flight is being tested at Nasa’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St Louis, Mississippi.