NASA administrator Bridenstine announced that commercial rockets (e.g., Delta Heavy and Falcon Heavy) would be considered as ways to launch EM-1 by July, 2020.
Such a move would reportedly require a mission architecture where the Orion & service module is launched separately from the departure stage. Four new pieces of development work would need to be done, tested and integrated for that to happen:
- Adapting the service module to one launch vehicle, and associated software changes.
- Adapting the departure stage to a second launch vehicle, with some sort of ejectable fairing, and associated software changes.
- On-orbit rendezvous of the two un-manned vehicles and placement for mating to occur.
- On-orbit mating of the service module and departure stage with a mechanism through which the departure stage can push Orion on its way.
My question is: With the vehicles and engineering resources likely be available, and reuse of existing solutions where available, how surmountable are the technical risks of these four things in the time frame being discussed?
This question is more about engineering than production and logistics – though information on how feasible it is to produce and launch two Delta Heavy or Falcon Heavy vehicles back-to-back might constrain what solutions are even worth thinking about.