NASA Chief: Budget Issues Delay Next Spaceship to 2015
Orion approaches the International Space Station. Photo
Credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.

WASHINGTON -- NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a Senate panel Wednesday that development of Orion crew spacecraft and the Ares launch vehicle will be delayed four to six months, pushing the first operational flight of the new system into 2015.

Griffin said the slip is unavoidable in the face of a flat 2007 budget that denies NASA's exploration program about half of the more than $900 million increase it was seeking [image].

"The reduction does not halt any planned work we were going to do on [Orion and Ares] but it does stretch it out," Griffin told the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee.

He said the slip would delay everything from the planned April 2009 test flight of the Ares I-1 rocket to the first operational flight, which had been targeted to occur no later than 2014.

"We can expect a slip into early 2015," he said.

NASA's Orion spacecraft is a capsule-based successor to the space agency's aging three-shuttle fleet -- Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour -- which is due to be retired in 2010 after construction of the International Space Station (ISS) is complete.

The spacecraft are expected to be capable of launching astronaut crews to the ISS and teams to the Moon under NASA's vision to return humans to the lunar surface by 2020. To be built by Lockheed Martin, the Orion spacecraft is expected to launch atop the planned Ares I rocket. A larger booster, the Ares V, would be used for unmanned cargo and hardware launches [image].

Orion's now planned slip in its first crewed flight lengthens the expected gap in NASA's ability to independently launch astronauts into space once the space shuttle fleet is retired. The space agency plans to rely on current agreements with ISS partners for crew and cargo flights and is studying the possibility of purchasing commercial spaceflight services under its Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) program.

SPACE.com Staff Writer Tariq Malik contributed to this report from New York City.