NASA’s crucial engine test for the lunar rocket was forced to end prematurely

NASA’s Boeing-built deep-exploration rocket briefly ignited all four engines at its core stage for the first time on Saturday, shortening a crucial test to promote a year-long US government program to return humans to the moon in the coming years. .

Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System (SLS) space 212 feet long core stage life at 16:27 local time (2227 GMT) in just over a minute – far from about four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November this year.

“Today was a good day,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a news conference after the test, adding “we received plenty of data that we will be able to sort through” to determine if a transition is needed and whether a November 2021 debut launch date remains. is possible.

The engine test, the final part of NASA’s almost year-long “Green Run” test campaign, was an important step for the space agency and its main SLS entrepreneur Boeing before an unmanned launch debuted later this year under NASA’s Artemis program, the Trump administration’s pressure to US astronauts return to the moon in 2024.

It was unclear whether Boeing and NASA would need to repeat the test, a possibility that could drive the debut launch until 2022. NASA’s SLS program director John Honeycutt, warns the data review from the test is underway, told reporters the turnaround time for another hot fire test could be about one month.

To simulate internal conditions for real elevation, the rocket’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignite in about a minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of traction and consuming 700,000 liters of fuel on NASA’s largest test stand, a massive facility that is raised 35 stories long.

NASA conducted a hot fire in the SLS core stage on 16 January. After an engine has been shut down for a little more than a minute in the hot fire, the team evaluates the data to determine what caused the early shutdown and will determine the next step. MORE >>

– NASA_SLS (@NASA_SLS) January 17, 2021

Nearly $ 3 billion over budget

The spent super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and almost $ 3 billion over budget. Critics have long argued that NASA should retire with the shuttle’s core technology for the shuttle, which has launch costs of $ 1 billion or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs.

In comparison, it costs as little as $ 90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and about $ 350 million per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.

While newer, more reusable rockets from both companies – SpaceXs Starship and United Launch Alliance Vulcan – promise heavier lifting capacity than Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy, potentially at a lower cost, SLS supporters claim it would take two or more launches on these rockets for to start what SLS could carry in a single mission.

Reuters reported in October that President-elect Joe Biden’s space adviser is aiming to delay Trump’s 2024 target, casting new doubt on SLS’s long-term fate just as SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin climb to gain competitive new heavy lifting capacity in the market.

NASA and Boeing engineers have maintained a ten-month Green Run schedule “despite significant setbacks this year,” Boeing chief SLS chief John Shannon told reporters this week, referring to five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month shutdown after some engineers tested positive for coronavirus in March.