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NASA Green-Lights Giant SLS Rocket, but Launch Slips to 2018

NASA says it has given the formal go-ahead for its heavy-lift Space Launch System, but the first test launch might have to slip to November 2018.

NASA says the design for its heavy-lift Space Launch System has gotten further along than any comparable development project in three decades, but the schedule for turning the design into a rocket for launch has slipped by almost a year. Officials gave the go-ahead for development of the SLS after a review known as Key Decision Point C. That's "something no other exploration-class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle," NASA said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The SLS rocket's first test flight is due to send an uncrewed Orion capsule beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA had scheduled that flight for December 2017, but on Wednesday it said the new target date was November 2018. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, told reporters he hoped to beat that revised schedule. Preparing for the first rocket test will cost $7 billion between now and then, NASA said. The space agency's schedule calls for using the SLS to launch astronauts to an asteroid rendezvous by 2025, and to Mars and its moons in the 2030s.

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— Alan Boyle