NASA has abandoned plans to get its replacement for the retiring U.S. space shuttles into service by 2013 because of a lack of additional funds and technical issues, officials said on Monday.
The U.S. space agency had hoped to fly astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a new spaceship called Orion as early as September 2013, well before its formal deadline or goal of March 2015.
"The window of opportunity for us to accelerate Orion has closed," program manager Jeff Hanley at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston told reporters during a conference call.
The United States will be without a means to transport people to and from space after the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010 until the new ships are ready to fly. It intends to rely on Russia to ferry crews to the space station and on private companies to deliver cargo during the gap.
NASA had hoped to minimize the gap, but additional funding to do so has not been approved by the U.S. Congress.
The agency now hopes to be able to fly an Orion crew to the International Space Station by September 2014.
The delay will force NASA to renegotiate several contracts with companies developing equipment and providing services under the "Constellation" program, which has the overall goal of landing astronauts on the moon by 2020.
Prime contractors include Lockheed Martin Corp, which is developing the Orion spacecraft; and Alliant Techsystems' ATK Launch Systems; The Boeing Co; and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a United Technologies Corp company, which are working on new rockets.
Also involved are Oceaneering International, which is developing new spacesuits, and SGT Inc, which is providing support services.