NASA launched the base stage of its new massive rocket. Space Launch System (SLS) – Saturday (Jan 16th) in a critical test that ended prematurely when the booster engines shut down earlier than planned.
Smoke and flames rose from the four RS-25 engines powering the giant rocket’s main booster, a staple of NASA’s Artemis moon program, as it came to life on top of a NASA test platform. Stennis Space Center Near St. Louis Bay, Mississippi. The ignition occurred at 5:27
EDT (2227 GMT), with 700,000 gallons (2.6 million liters) of coolant fuel flowing through the engines as they roar for just over a minute, much shorter than planned.
The test was supposed to last 485 seconds (or just over 8 minutes), which is the amount of time the engines would burn during flight. After the engine ignited, NASA said, the four RS-25 engines fired for just over 60 seconds.
„Not everything went according to the text today,“ said NASA President Jim Bridenstein late on Saturday after the test. „But we’ve got a lot of great data, and a lot of great information.“
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Shut down the engine early
It is still too early to tell the reason for the premature shutdown of the engine test on Saturday.
Flight controllers can be heard during testing indicating „MCF“ (major component malfunction) apparently related to the # 4 engine on the SLS booster. John Honeycutt, SLS Program Manager at NASA, added that at around the 60-second mark, the cameras picked up a flash in a thermal shield on the engine, although its cause and significance have yet to be determined.
Honeycutt said it’s too early to tell if a second hot fire test is required at Stennis, or if it could be conducted later at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the SLS is due to launch the unmanned Artemis 1 mission around the moon by the end of this. The year. Likewise, it’s too early to tell if Artemis 1 will still be able to launch it this year.
„I think it’s still too early to tell,“ Bridenstine said on whether the launch of Artemis 1 in 2021 is still a possibility. „As we discover what went wrong, we will sort of know what the future has in store.“
During a press conference on Tuesday (January 12), John Shannon, Vice President and Director of the SLS Program at Boeing, said that the engines need to work for a certain period of time to obtain the data they need. „If we have an early shutdown, for whatever reason, we get all the engineering data we need to have high confidence in the car in about 250 seconds,“ said Shannon.
Because the test paused for shorter than 250 seconds, and before teams could move (or move) the engines, the exact amount of data and how confident the teams were in the vehicle were not specified.
Saturday’s test was initially lifted by an hour until 4 PM EST (1900 GMT) as test preparations were ahead of schedule. However, during the countdown, engineers held the count to work with water deflection checks and other tests on the engine test stand. Teams managed to solve the issues and resume counting in time to complete testing on Saturday, despite the short run time.
the exercise, Commonly known as the hot shot test, Put the basic components supporting the space launch system – the RS-25’s main engines, fuel tanks, computers and missile avionics – through its steps. The test simulated a launch while the missile was held firmly in place, anchored to a test stand. (The same test platform was used to test the engines on both NASA and NASA Saturn V rocket And the space shuttle.)
„The SLS missile is the most powerful missile ever built in human history,“ Bridenstein said on NASA TV shortly before the test. This is the same missile that will be launched by the end of this year, the Orion capsule around the moon.
Anatomy of the Space Launch System
NASA’s Space Launch System was first designed in 2011, and finally meets for an unmanned flight around the Moon later this year.
Each SLS missile will use four RS-25 rocket motors to launch its 212-foot (65 m) base stage. The missile will also rely on two solid rocket boosters and a top stage to launch NASA’s Orion crew capsule beyond low Earth orbit.
Together, SLS and Orion are the two main components of NASA Artemis moon program Who strives for To return astronauts to the moon as soon as 2024.
The agency currently has 16 RS-25 engines on hand, which have been salvaged from the agency now retired Space Shuttle Program. These engines will be used in the first four SLS missile launches of Artemis missions 1 through 4. (These flights include the program’s first manned moon landing, Artemis 3, and a follow-up flight.)
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Since the engines on those first missions are shuttle relics, they have been overhauled with new computer consoles as well as upgrades ensuring they can handle the higher performance requirements of launching an SLS, NASA officials said.
This isn’t the only recycled portion of previous software. Like engines, solid rocket boosters have also been used to propel NASA’s fleet of space shuttles into orbit. Also modified to work with SLS. But it won’t be used forever. As technology develops, the side boosters will be replaced by advanced boosters.
The SLS will have a pair of these boosters strapped to the side of the base stage. It consists of four RS-25 engines at the base of the vehicle, and will be stacked on top with missile components with an Orion capsule and a service unit floating on top of it.
The entire vehicle will be covered by an orbiting launch system designed to pull the capsule away from the missile if something goes wrong during launch.
The way to the test stand
NASA has been systematically testing various components of an SLS missile for the past few years.
The agency tested each of the main engines separately to ensure they were working as expected. To ensure that the flight devices meet design expectations, NASA began what it calls a Green Play test Which included testing the vehicle’s avionics, countdown timer and launch schedule, refueling procedures and more.
The tests went smoothly but not without problems. The spread of a global pandemic combined with an unprecedented number of tropical storms and hurricanes affecting test sites has resulted in delays due to hardware issues.
NASA ran „two separate rehearsals“ in which the fuel was loaded into the engines and then discharged. During one of these exercises that took place on December 20, The test ended unexpectedly earlyThis caused the hot flame test to be postponed today from December, according to a NASA statement. Another refueling attempt earlier in December was halted due to temperature issues.
The period leading up to the engine tests on Saturday also saw a series of Delay due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemicNASA officials said. Social distancing restrictions mean that many NASA officials, engineers, and other members of the SLS team (as well as the media) cannot be on hand to watch the coaxial missile test. Many team members have sent in videos to share by default.
Testing is the key
The purpose of the test is to ensure that the rocket will be able to carry an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a flight around the moon later this year.
With four RS-25 engines ignited, it ended a critical period of initial testing of the missile that NASA referred to as „Green Run.“ That series of tests began with stress tests on the physical structure of the missile and ended with today’s hot fire test.
The aim of the test was to run the launch day procedures, igniting the four engines, allowing them to burn for just over 8 minutes – just shy of how long they would burn during the actual flight. This test firing clearly did not happen.
It will take teams at least several days to review SLS test data before deciding on next steps, such as the need for more tests or clearing the key stage of its next step: refurbishment and eventual relocation to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Once in Florida, it will be combined with the rest of the vehicle already on site. This includes Two solid rocket boosters, Which is currently stacked in the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building.
The boosters are pre-tested before being shipped in segments to Florida. Each reinforcer consists of five parts stacked on top of each other.
The Orion spacecraft is nearly complete and ready to be attached to the top of the SLS once the rocket is fully assembled.
Bridenstine confirmed late Saturday that despite an early engine shutdown, the SLS hot fire should not be seen as a failure, but as a test the agency will definitely learn from.
He said, „I have complete confidence in the team to find out what the anomaly is, to know how to fix it, and then to pursue it again.“ „Because we don’t fail. We might have a setback, and then go back and do it again.“
Editor’s note: This story, originally published at 6:53 PM EST, was updated at 9:39 PM EST with more details from the post-test press conference by NASA.
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