The inaugural launch of NASA’s SLS rocket has been delayed until at least August 2022

NASA's SLS rocket seen through the windows of firing room one at the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

NASA’s SLS rocket seen through the windows of firing room one at the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA will attempt another Space Launch System countdown test in early June, but the space agency has warned that multiple tests of its painstaking rocket may be needed.

SLS returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 26 April, allowing technicians to change a faulty upper stage helium check valve and repair a small hydrogen leak in the tail service mast umbilical. These and other “pesky” problems, as NASA describes them, prevented ground crews from conducting a fourth wet dress rehearsal, in which the rocket was to be launched. fully loaded with super cooled boosters and a full countdown expert. NASA had hoped to conduct the fourth test while the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) rocket was still sitting at Launch Complex 39B, but it didn’t.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, NASA officials said they will again attempt a full wet dress rehearsal in early to mid-June. The additional time will allow the team to resolve some lingering technical issues, perform additional checks on the rocket, and allow a third-party nitrogen gas supplier to make any necessary upgrades to its piping system.

SLS is a key component of NASA’s upcoming Artemis program, which seeks to return American astronauts to the dusty lunar surface for the first time in more than 50 years. NASA also needs the megarocket to build its next Lunar Gateway (a small space station in orbit around the Moon) and enable future manned trips to Mars. The SLS program has suffered from cost overruns and delayswith these latest setbacks adding salt to the wound.

Assuming a successful test can be completed in June, the rocket will once again return to Vehicle Assembly Building for final launch preparations and “some work we’ve deferred to the other side of the wet dress,” as Jim Free, associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, explained during the media teleconference. Upcoming launch periods for drones Artemis 1 mission they include July 26 to August 9 (Free said NASA is not considering the July part of this period), August 23 to 29, and September 2 to 6. Somewhat ominously, Free said release windows have been set for the rest of the calendar year. but did not provide specific dates. NASA will wait for the results of the next wet dress to make a decision on when to launch it.

Free, explaining that wanted to be “realistic” and “frank”, said “it may take more than one try” to finish a wet dress and to “get procedures where we need them for a smoother launch count that gives us the best chance of making our launch windows when we get to launch day.” Since this is the first time we’ve heard that multiple attempts might be necessary, and given the large number of problems encountered during the first three tests, I asked Free if the rocket is proving to be more complicated than NASA thought.

“SLS is not proving to be more complicated—we he knew It was complicated,” he replied. A particular challenge, Free said, has been operating the new ground systems for the first time and seeing how they react. The team is “not going to take it for granted” that the next wet dress “is going to be great” based on what was experienced during the first three attempts, she said. A certain amount of realism is needed in the approach and the “team needs our support,” she added. This includes managing the team’s workload, which “he’s been doing for quite some time,” Free said. “This is really hard work.”

SLS must exit the Vehicle Assembly Building in late May, and the wet dress is expected to be in early or late June. This is not a guarantee, as technicians have not yet determined the source of the rubber residue that prevented an upper stage check valve from operating during a previous test. The umbilical hydrogen leak on the rig must also be repaired to the satisfaction of the team (periodic bolt tightening fixes the problem), while the supplier of the nitrogen gas, Air Liquide, must demonstrate that it can deliver the gas to SLS as per necessary, as Cliff Lanham, NASA’s senior manager for vehicle operations, told reporters.

On a positive note, NASA will have live commentary for the upcoming SLS test, which had not been done for the first three tests, apparently to security reasons.

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