NASA has spent years and billions of dollars developing a giant rocket known as the Space Launch System, designed for it. Take the astronauts to the moon And maybe further away in the solar system one day. But the missile’s first launch – an unmanned test flight that will go to the moon and beyond – won’t be launched until at least November.
On Saturday, though, NASA is scheduled to deliver a fiery show as it is doing a critical test: igniting all four engines of the boost stage for up to eight minutes, and simulating what would happen during an actual launch into orbit. However, the booster will still be securely anchored to a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
A test shootout is scheduled for Saturday at around 5:25 PM ET. NASA TV began broadcasting coverage of the testOr, you can watch it in the built-in video player above.
Earlier in the afternoon, the agency changed the schedule by one hour, to 4 PM, saying after the missile had loaded with fuel that preparation was ahead of schedule.
However, the updated timeframe was delayed, and Alex Cagnola, a NASA engineer, said the test connectors were “working through some issues on the rack,” without describing the cause of the delay or how long it would take.
After a series of steps, the final 10-minute countdown began at around 5:15 PM
A press conference is scheduled about two hours after the test.
The Space Launch System is the equivalent of the 21st century Saturn V, which took NASA astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Although there are many other rockets available today, they are too small to launch a spacecraft that can carry people to the moon. (A possible exception is Falcon Heavy from SpaceX, But the human lunar mission would require two separate launches bearing pieces that stick together in space or head separately to the moon.)
The Falcon Heavy can lift up to 64 metric tons into low Earth orbit. The initial version of the SLS is slightly more powerful, capable of lifting 70 metric tons, and future versions of the missile will be able to lift up to 130 metric tons, more than the missiles that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Although the Space Launch System would be costly – up to $ 2 billion to launch a single-use missile – Congress has provided steadfast financial support for it so far. Proponents contend that it is important for the government to own and operate its powerful deep space rocket, and that parts of the system have been embraced by companies across the country, spreading the economic benefits to many states and congressional districts.
The Space Launch System is a key component of the Artemis program, which is a program to return NASA astronauts to the moon in the coming years. Although the president Trump has pledged to make the trip by the end of 2024Few expected that NASA would actually stick to this timeline, even before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected.
When NASA announced plans for the Space Launch System in 2011, the first launch was scheduled for 2016. As is customary in new rocket designs, development encountered technical difficulties, such as the need to develop procedures for soldering pieces together as large as these Located in the missile. NASA too Work on the missile has stopped For a period of last year during the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak.
As the first launch date fell several times, prices rose. NASA has so far spent more than $ 10 billion on the rocket and more than $ 16 billion on the Orion capsule where the astronauts will sit.
In audit in 2018, NASA’s Inspector General blamed the poor performance of Boeing, the main contractor building the boost phase, for much of the delay. Another report of the Inspector General for 2020 He said NASA “continues to struggle to manage the SLS program costs and schedule.”
The test fire is part of what NASA calls “Green Run,” a series of tests for a fully assembled booster phase. The same booster will be used on its first flight into space, so engineers want to make sure it works as designed before launching it.
Several other rockets are in development, and some of them may be close to their first flights into space.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, may launch Vulcan Centaur in the last quarter of the year. The Vulcan Centaur is the successor to the Atlas V, the longtime military satellite and NASA launch backbone. However, this missile uses Russian-made RD-180 engines, and Congress has become more wary of relying on technology from a country often seen as an adversary.
Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeff BezosThe billionaire founder of Amazon has also developed a reusable missile called New Glenn that competes with both Vulcan Centaur and SpaceX’s Falcon 9. (Blue Origin will also earn money from every Vulcan Centaur launch; this booster uses BE-4 engines made by Blue Origin.)
Most interesting The giant spacecraft rocket is under development by SpaceX Elon Musk. When mounted on top of a massive booster stage, it would dwarf the space launch system, yet it would be just as reusable as a passenger plane. It’s designed to take people to Mars, and SpaceX has also won a contract to adapt it to take NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon.
Mr. Musk’s engineers conducted test flights of the spacecraft models at a site in southern Texas along the Gulf Coast. During the last test, which was broadcast live on the Internet, the prototype of the missile accomplished a number of technical goals before It descends very quickly during its descent and explodes in an amazing explosion. It appears that the company is preparing for its next test flight in the coming days or weeks.
If the hot flame test is successful, the booster will be moved to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That will pave the way for the first flight of the Space Launch System into orbit and beyond, possibly later this year.
This will be an astronaut mission called Artemis 1. The launch will carry the Orion unit, along with an assortment of small CubeSats, on a path to the moon. The capsule will orbit the moon several times, as in the NASA Apollo 8 mission, before it returns to Earth and lands on a landing on the water.
The success of this mission could pave the way for the first astronaut flight in Orion and ultimately lead to a moon landing.