NASA has spent years and billions of dollars developing a giant rocket called the Space Launch System, designed to send astronauts to the moon and possibly further into the solar system. someday. But the first missile launch – a wheelless test flight that will reach the moon and beyond – won’t be able to take off until at least November.
However, on Saturday this week, NASA is expected to hold a fiery demonstration performing a key test: burning all four engines of the booster phase for up to eight minutes, simulate what will happen in an actual launch into orbit. However, the boosters will be kept safe at a test booth at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
When is the fire test and how can I see it?
The test fire is scheduled for Saturday at 5pm Eastern time. NASA TV will broadcast about the test starting at 4:20 pm. A press conference is scheduled to take place about two hours after the test.
What is the Space Launch System and why does NASA say they need a missile?
The Space Launch System is the 21st century equivalent of Saturn V that brought NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Although there are many other rockets today, they are too small to launch. A spaceship can carry people to the moon. (One possible exception is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, but a human lunar mission will require two separate launchers carrying pieces that will then dock together in space or go separately. moon.)
Falcon Heavy can lift up to 64 tons into low Earth orbit. The initial version of the SLS was slightly more powerful, had the capacity to lift 70 tons, and future versions of the missile would probably weigh up to 130 tons, more than the rockets that brought the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
While a Space Launch System would cost – up to $ 2 billion a launch for a single-use missile – so far Congress has provided consistent financial support for it. . Proponents argue it is important for the government to own and operate its own powerful deep space missile, and that parts of the system built by companies across the country, benefit economic benefits for many states and parliamentary regions.
The Space Launch System is a key component of Artemis, the program that brings NASA astronauts back to the moon in the coming years. Although President Trump has pledged to make the trip by the end of 2024, few expect NASA will actually meet that timeline, even before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Why is the missile slow in progress?
When NASA announced its plans for the Space Launch System in 2011, its first launch was planned in 2016. As is typical of new missile designs, development encountered difficulties. techniques, such as the need to develop processes to weld as large pieces of metal together as in rockets. NASA also halted construction of the missile for some time last year during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
Since the first launch date slipped a few times, the price tag has gone up. NASA has so far spent more than $ 10 billion on rockets and more than $ 16 billion on the Orion compartment where the astronauts will sit.
Why is fire retry important?
The test fire was part of what NASA calls the Green Run, a fully assembled series of booster phase tests. The same turbocharger will be used for the first flight into space, so engineers want to make sure it’s working as it was before launch.
What can happen during the test?
Just like with a real launch, technical glitches occurred. In an earlier test, called a wet dressing exercise, in which the entire countdown was simulated except with the activation of the engine, almost everything went well. But for the last few seconds, one of the thrust valves did not close as soon as was expected. Turns out the temperature was a bit lower than expected, and that made the valve a bit more difficult to rotate. Software has been adjusted.
The worst case scenario would be if a breakdown resulted in the destruction of the booster. That would delay the program for several more years and extend calls asking NASA to consider alternatives.