Home / Science / NASA no longer needs to test SLS, but the Senate has ordered so.

NASA no longer needs to test SLS, but the Senate has ordered so.

Photo of the SLS core heating test.
expand / During the second attempt, the SLS main stage fires a full eight minutes at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Trevor Mahlmann

After spending more than 15 months at the Stennis Space Center in Southern Mississippi, the main stage of NASA̵

7;s massive Space Launch System rocket set off for Florida in late April. Preparations are underway for the launch of this mammoth rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. This should be possible in early 2022.

For US Senator Roger Vickers, Republican from Mississippi. Months with an SLS rocket set up on a test platform in his home state. It sparked memories of NASA’s heyday when engine and rocket testing became more common at the space center. “Seeing and hearing the four engines firing the SLS core together for the first time was exciting,” Vickers said after one of the SLS tests.

Even as he was celebrating Stennis’ fiery testing, Vickers had to wonder what his center would do after the SLS rocket disappeared. Boeing has made it clear that they only need to perform ground testing of the vehicle once, and that future SLS rockets will be delivered directly from the Michod, Louisiana plant to the Florida launch site.

However, the US senator has some power. And Vickers clearly needs high-profile testing for the Mississippi Center to engage center employees, so Stennis may have additional testing.

Endless Test Firing Act

The US Senate passed the Endless Frontier Act this week to support US research and innovation. Several revisions were made, including NASA’s “licensing” language, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat. Most notably, Cantwell told NASA that a second carrier would have to be chosen to build a human landing system for the Artemis Moon project alongside SpaceX.

This provision has been dubbed the Blue Origin’s “help” by some critics Because it approved $10.03 billion, which would allow NASA to finance a lander built by Blue Origin (however, (It’s not expressly appropriate to raise funds, however, leaving NASA mandates that may not be supported.) Blue Origin is located in the Washington state of Cantwell.

But there’s more to NASA’s fixes. Wicker co-sponsored and added his own language to the bill. Stennis’ specific provisions say NASA should “start the development of core propulsion test articles for the Space Launch System’s integrated core propulsion component, in line with cost and time constraints, particularly for phase propulsion hardware. length required for flight”

So what is a “main thrust test article” and why does NASA need it? According to a report by a Senate official who spoke with Ars behind the scenes, this is essentially the SLS’s main platform built not to fly. But it had to undergo a series of tests at Stennis. “Real-world flight hardware testing is risky from a timetable perspective,” the employee said. Astronauts would also be safer if the SLS vehicle could pass the test under conditions. more severe, he said.

This seems like a rather strange reason, given that NASA has said that the SLS’s main phase doesn’t require additional ground testing. Instead, the agency is pushing for the vehicle to fly as quickly as possible. It was susceptible to criticism that the rocket was running several years behind schedule. A budget of more than a billion dollars and the governor saw it as a work project

After the main stage’s second “Green Run” test in March, John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS rocket program manager, said the agency had received all the information it needed. We want to ensure that the main SLS stage can successfully propel every SLS rocket.”

NASA’s Space Shuttle Contractor Rockwell created a “main propulsion test article” for the space shuttle in the 1970s, and it has undergone more than a dozen tests at Stennis. However, this test ended in January 2018. 1981, three months before the launch of the first space shuttle. in other words Article testing a shuttle with three main engines. serves to find problems before flight

That won’t happen with the SLS test article. NASA is planning the first rocket launch with major stages within the next nine months. After this test flight by launching an unmanned Orion around the moon. A second flight with the astronauts is scheduled to follow in 2023, with a third possibly in 2024. The whole point of the test article is to test the system before the stakes are high. launched not later

When is it delivered?

Plans to create a “main propulsion test article” for the SLS rocket became even more absurd when we considered how late the game would arrive.

It seems unlikely that Boeing, which would have created this test article. Because there are already responsibilities in the main steps. so the vehicle can be delivered soon. A Senate official said he could not estimate the cost for the test article or say when it would be built. We might consider the timeline for the Space Shuttle test article. NASA awarded Rockwell a contract for the test vehicle in 1972, and the vehicle didn’t arrive at the Stennis until more than five years later, in September 1977. The first test-fire took place in the Space Shuttle. April 1978

Space shuttle external tank for the main propulsion test article.  Off the assembly line on September 9, 1977 at the Michode Assembly Plant in New Orleans.
expand / Space shuttle external tank for the main propulsion test article. Off the assembly line on September 9, 1977 at the Michode Assembly Plant in New Orleans.


Boeing is going to be hard pressed to deliver three main SLS cost-effective steps to fly within the next five years. This still requires approval from the US House of Representatives and may be amended there. It’s unlikely to become law for months. Then funding must be appropriate for this test article. This will hardly happen until the end of this year. the best The contract for the SLS propulsion test article may be awarded in early 2022, so this test article will not arrive at the Stennis until 2027 and may not ignite until 2028.

At the time, NASA’s Space Launch System program was expected to fly many flights or be canceled because they were replaced by lower-cost commercial rockets.

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