NASA SLS rocket is in ‘excellent condition’ after weekend’s hot fire test abort

NASA complete Hot Fire Engine Test for SLS core

NASA’S SLS or Space Launch System has been stuck in development hell since 2011. Touted as the most powerful launch vehicle built since the Saturn V that carried Apollo astronauts to the Moon, SLS was meant to fly for the first time three years ago. But the £12.5billion ($17billion) project is only now edging closer to completion and will serve NASA’s new Moon landing programme, Artemis.

On Saturday, January 16, SLS’s core stage was seemingly put through the wringer during a test of its four powerful engines at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The hot fire test briefly ignited SLS’s RS-25 engines, which have been repurposed from the retired Space Shuttle.

However, the test was abruptly aborted just 67.2 seconds into what was supposed to be an eight-minute test run.

The premature shutdown led to worries NASA’s programme would struggle to put the next man and first woman on the Moon by 2024.

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One person tweeted: “The latest failure of SLS on its Green Run test is further proof that too much pressure is being put on the SLS teams to meet checkpoints.

“I can’t get over how it went from going a full eight and a half minutes, to two and a half is enough data for us, to 67 second abort.”

Another person said: “SLS core stage finally fired, after years and years of production and billions of dollars pouring into the program. And on its first test firing? An abort only a quarter of the way into the test.

“I mean…come on. The SLS is such a mess (stupid, expensive mess). #NASA #SLS”

NASA has, however, assured the SLS did not fail the test but, rather, all of the rocket’s systems worked as expected.

The abort appears to have been caused by the rocket exceeding pre-set test parameters and not by hardware or software failure.

The US space agency said on Tuesday preliminary inspections “show the rocket’s hardware is in excellent condition after the Green Run test”.

One of the rocket’s Core Stage Auxiliary Power Units (CAPUs) was responsible for the abort.

The CAPUs are linked to the rocket’s hydraulic system, which is responsible for gimballing or pivoting SLS’s engines when in flight.

One of the power units exceeded test limits NASA described as “conservative” and triggered the abort.

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NASA administrator outlines importance of the SLS rocket

NASA said: “These preprogrammed parameters are designed specifically for ground testing with the flight hardware that will fly NASA’s Artemis I mission to ensure the core stage’s thrust vector control system safely moves the engines.”

In other words, the engines would have not shutdown if this was a proper launch and not a ground-based wet rehearsal.

NASA added: “While the test planned to fire the four engines for about eight minutes, the team still achieved several objectives during the shorter firing.

“They repeated the wet dress rehearsal, once again filling the tanks with more than 700,000 gallons of propellant with some added modifications to procedures to ensure proper thermal conditioning of the engines.”

The rocket’s tanks were pressurised with propellant and the engines were ignited, reaching full power of 109 percent.

In total, the RS-25 engines produced a staggering 1.6 million pounds of thrust – the same output as the planned Artemis 1 mission in November this year.

The first uncrewed mission of Artemis, Artemis 1, is pencilled in to launch later this year from the Kennedy Space Centre in 2021.

By 2028, NASA has vowed to have a sustained human presence on the Moon with the goal of using the lunar orb as a stepping stone to Mars.

However, it remains to be seen whether these plans will be affected by President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration, which is expected to put space exploration on the backburner to deal with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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