NASA’s mega-size moon rocket suffered an engine issue during a critical test on Saturday, and the error could further delay the agency’s attempt to send astronauts back to the moon.
The rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), is designed to eventually stand at 365 feet (111 m) and ferry astronauts to the moon in late 2020.
The system is an essential piece of a larger program called Artemis, with an effort of nearly $ US30 billion dollars to return shoes to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. NASA has spent about 18 billion US dollars to develop the rocket.
The SLS core stage – the largest piece of the system and its structural spine – was assembled and heavily assembled at the Stannis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on Saturday for a critical “hot fire” test.
For the first time, the rocket was ready to fire four of its powerful RS-25 engines simultaneously as it would for launch.
According to NASA, the core phase is the largest and most powerful rocket stage in the world. It hosts five main classes, including a 537,000-gallon (2 million-liter) tank for liquid hydrogen, a 196,000-gallon (742,000-liter) tank for liquid oxygen, four RS-25 engines, Avionics computers, and other subsystems. .
Boeing is the main contractor for the platform, and Aerojet Rocketdyne is responsible for its RS-25 engine, which helped propel NASA’s fleet of space shuttles.
The fuel tanks were filled with 733,000 gallons of cryogenically cooled propellant on Saturday, and the engines roared to life at about 5:27 pm EST.
“It was like an earthquake,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein told reporters at a press conference after the test.
“It was a great moment. And it just brought joy that after all this, now we’ve got a rocket. The only rocket on the face of a planet capable of carrying humans to the moon is firing all four RS-25 engines. Was. At the same time. “
The engine should have fired continuously for eight minutes. But about a minute into the test, the engine controller sent a command to the core-stage controller to shut them down.
The controllers saw a flash next to the thermal-protection blanket engine four. Shortly afterwards, that engine recorded an MCF, or “major component failure”. It is not yet clear what happened.
“We still had four good engines at the time when they made the call and were running 109 percent,” John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said at the press conference.
The whole thing happened on NASA’s live broadcast:
“The progress we’ve made today is remarkable. And no, it’s not a failure. It’s a test. And we tested today in a way that’s meaningful, where we’re going to learn and we’re going to make adjustments And we are going to fly to the moon, ”said Bridenstein.
The SLS team will discuss the data obtained from the test over the next few days, assess the main stages and engines as to what happened and how to proceed.
NASA may need to do hot fire test again
Saturday’s hot fire was considered the eighth and final stage in NASA’s “Green Run”, a program designed to fully test each part of the core phase before the first launch of SLS, called Artemis 1 Is – an untested flight until November 2021. .
But this timeline may now be unrealistic. If the hot fire went well, in February, NASA was planning to ship the rocket to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. There, the workmen will stack all the segments of the two boosters needed to send Artemis 1 around the moon.
It is unclear how long it will take NASA to fix the engine error and get the main stage in Florida now.
“It depends what the discrepancy was and how challenging it was to fix. And we’ve got a lot to learn about that,” Bridenstein said.
“It may very well be that this is something that can be easily fixed and we can feel that going to the cape and staying on schedule. It’s also true that we get a challenge. Which is more time consuming. “
The agency may have to redo the hot fire test. The SLS team wanted to have simultaneous firing for at least 250 seconds so that the vehicle would have high confidence. Saturday’s test lasted just over 60 seconds.
It would take at least four or five days to prepare the Stannis Space Center facilities for another test. If NASA needs to swap existing engines for new ones, workers can do it on-site at the Stennis Space Center. Honeycutt estimated that it would take about seven to 10 days to do so.
“That’s why we do the testing,” Bridenstein said. “We need to be right before we put American astronauts on American rockets.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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