from the will-it-go-well-or-will-it-go-BOOM? dept.
NASA is targeting a two-hour test window that opens at 3 p.m. EDT Thursday, March 18, for the second hot fire test of the core stage for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The agency plans to begin live coverage on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app approximately 30 minutes before the hot fire. The team will refine the timeline as it proceeds through operations. NASA will provide updates on the operations and the target hot fire time at @NASA and the Artemis blog.
[...] A post-test briefing will follow on NASA Television approximately two hours after the test.
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NASA is targeting a two-hour test window that opens at 5 p.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 16, for the hot fire test of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage at the agency's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Live coverage will begin at 4:20 p.m. on NASA Television and the agency's website, followed by a post-test briefing approximately two hours after the test concludes.
Media may submit questions during the post-test briefing by emailing email@example.com.
The hot fire is the eighth and final test of the Green Run series to ensure the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready to launch Artemis missions to the Moon, beginning with Artemis I. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank, four RS-25 engines, and the computers, electronics, and avionics that serve as the "brains" of the rocket. During the test, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks, and fire all four engines at the same time to simulate the stage's operation during launch, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust.
The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.
Will it go BOOM?
For a few moments, it seemed like the Space Launch System saga might have a happy ending. Beneath brilliant blue skies late on Saturday afternoon, NASA's huge rocket roared to life for the very first time. As its four engines lit, and thrummed, thunder rumbled across these Mississippi lowlands. A giant, beautiful plume of white exhaust billowed away from the test stand.
It was all pretty damn glorious until it stopped suddenly.
About 50 seconds into what was supposed to be an 8-minute test firing, the flight control center called out, "We did get an MCF on Engine 4." This means there was a "major component failure" with the fourth engine on the vehicle. After a total of about 67 seconds, the hot fire test ended.
During a post-flight news conference, held outside near the test stand, officials offered few details about what had gone wrong. "We don't know what we don't know," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "It's not everything we hoped it would be."
He and NASA's program manager for the SLS rocket, John Honeycutt, sought to put a positive spin on the day. They explained that this is why spaceflight hardware is tested. They expressed confidence that this was still the rocket that would launch the Orion spacecraft around the Moon.
And yet it is difficult to say what happened Saturday is anything but a bitter disappointment. This rocket core stage was moved to Stennis from its factory in nearby Louisiana more than one calendar year ago, with months of preparations for this critical test firing.
Honeycutt said before the test, and then again afterward, that NASA had been hoping to get 250 seconds worth of data, if not fire the rocket for the entire duration of its nominal ascent to space. Instead it got a quarter of that.
NASA plans to conduct a second Green Run hot fire test as early as the fourth week in February with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket's core stage that will launch the Artemis I mission to the Moon. The Green Run is a comprehensive assessment of the rocket's core stage prior to launching Artemis missions.
While the first hot fire test marked a major milestone for the program with the firing of all four RS-25 engines together for the first time for about a minute, it ended earlier than planned. After evaluating data from the first hot fire and the prior seven Green Run tests, NASA and core stage lead contractor Boeing determined that a second, longer hot fire test should be conducted and would pose minimal risk to the Artemis I core stage while providing valuable data to help certify the core stage for flight.
Inspections showed the core stage hardware, including its engines, and the B-2 test stand are in excellent condition after the first hot fire test, and no major repairs are needed to prepare for a second hot fire test at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
[...] After the second hot fire test, it will take about a month to refurbish the core stage and its engines. Then, the Pegasus barge will transport the core stage to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be assembled with the other parts of the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft being prepared for the Artemis I launch later this year.
NASA has asked the US aerospace industry how it would go about "maximizing the long-term efficiency and sustainability" of the Space Launch System rocket and its associated ground systems.
[...] In its request NASA says it would like to fly the SLS rocket for "30 years or more" as a national capability. Moreover, the agency wants the rocket to become a "sustainable and affordable system for moving humans and large cargo payloads to cislunar and deep-space destinations."
[...] Among the rocket's chief architects was then-Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who steered billions of dollars to Kennedy Space Center in his home state for upgraded ground systems equipment to support the rocket. Back in 2011, he proudly said the rocket would be delivered on time and on budget.
"This rocket is coming in at the cost of... not only what we estimated in the NASA Authorization act, but less," Nelson said at the time. "The cost of the rocket over a five- to six-year period in the NASA authorization bill was to be no more than $11.5 billion. This costs $10 billion for the rocket." Later, he went further, saying, "If we can't do a rocket for $11.5 billion, we ought to close up shop."
After more than 10 years, and more than $30 billion spent on the rocket and its ground systems, NASA has not closed up shop. Rather, Nelson has ascended to become the space agency's administrator.
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