NASA suspends tests of its giant SLS launcher and returns it to its hangar

Le SLS dressé sur son pas de tir le 4 avril 2022. © Nasa, Joel Kowsky

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[EN VIDÉO] Watch what the Artemis mission launches will look like
At the end of 2021, NASA’s new heavy launcher, the SLS (Space Launch System), will launch the first Artemis I mission to the Moon. This is what its first flight will look like.

New setback for the SLS of the Nasa, forced to suspend the launch timeline with filling which was to check if it is ready to be launched. Started on March 20, NASA never managed to complete this rehearsal and the associated tests which consist of repeating the steps leading to a launch, from filling the tanks to the final countdown, were stopped just before the launch. engine ignition. In question: a multitude of more or less important problems… announced as minor at first.

NASA finally resolved to bring back its launcher in its assembly building to carry out repairs and modifications. A defective valve will notably be replaced while leaks, discovered during the last filling operations of the main stage withhydrogen liquid, will be repaired.

If we can’t talk aboutaccident industrial for the moment, it is clear that the development of a launcher is not a long calm river. This is all the more surprising since the architecture of the SLS is based on the heritage left by the Saturn and space shuttle programs. Conversely, the developmental delays encountered by the Starship of SpaceX are not surprising for a launcher that is new in its design and architecture.

Uncertainty on the launch date

Regarding the test flight of Artemis-1, NASA, which wanted to carry it out in early June, will probably be forced to plan it, at best, between June 29 and July 12. Despite this setback, she maintains her objective of bringing back astronauts on the Moon by 2025.

The delays of the SLS, which Boeing has been developing for almost ten years, are not the only concerns that NASA must manage. If the astronauts are preparing and will be ready, the same cannot be said for the equipment which should allow this return! Of course, the vehicle Orion and its European service module are apparently operational. But what about the Starship lunar of SpaceXthe lander that must take the astronauts between theorbit and the surface of the Moon?

NASA: general rehearsal for the SLS before its launch to the Moon

Article of Remy Decourt published on 01/04/2022

Nasa set to test SLS launch timeline to T-10 seconds. The launcher engines will obviously not be on. This test, scheduled to last several days, will be broadcast live but without commentary or audio to avoid the risks of technological proliferation and to protect industrial secrets. This fictitious countdown will make it possible to check if the launcher is finally ready to be launched (it was supposed to take off in 2017) and to assess the date on which this launch could take place.

The goal of returning to the Moon is getting closer. The United States makes it a priority and is convinced that NASA will succeed in returning there as early as 2025, in just three years. If the astronauts are ready, the same cannot be said for the equipment which should allow this return! Of course, the vehicle Orion and its European service module are in place, but what about SpaceX’s lunar Starship, the lander that must take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the Moon? What about the powerful SLS launcher that Boeing has been developing for nearly 10 years?

Regarding the SLS, we should be fixed fairly quickly. The launcher is currently on its Kennedy Space Center launch pad to perform a test scheduled to last from 1er to April 3. Its purpose is to check several points such as the refueling procedures of theoxygen and hydrogen, and perform several countdown scenarios to check the behavior of the launcher. Whatever it is, the countdown will stop at T-10 seconds, before the ignition of the engines.

If this “last design check before launch” goes as planned, NASA should announce the launch date around April 15. A first briefing is scheduled for April 4 which should present the preliminary results of the test.

Several possible launch dates

That said, NASA has already made public several launch dates between now and July 12. If the pitcher is unlikely to be ready for the first window envisaged launch — the one that opens on May 7 and closes on May 21 and moreover, NASA hardly believes in it –, the chances of a launch during the next launch window, between the June 6 and 16, are very high. If this firing opportunity is missed, NASA has the option of launching it between June 29 and July 12.

Without ignition of the engines, there is ultimately not very much interest in following this test, especially since, even if NASA broadcasts it, it will do so without audio and without commentary. NASA explains this decision to avoid disclosing information about the timing and the sequencing data related to everything related to the cryogenic technology the SLS (the propulsion system to sum up) which could provide information to countries wishing to acquire ballistic technologies, or even improve them cheaply.

At least that is the opinion of Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for the development of exploration systems at NASA, who sees a certain analogy between the SLS, due to its size and capabilities, and ballistic missiles. Rather surprising as reasoning although a launcher can obviously be converted into a missile and vice versa.

That said, the SLS must all the same contain some industrial secrets although this launcher is a modernized heritage of the Saturn launcher of the missions Apollo and space shuttles.

In pictures, the SLS launcher seen from space

Article by Rémy Decourt published on 03/22/2022

a satellite Pleiades Airbus’ Neo passed over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center a few hours after the SLS launcher was transferred to its launch pad. The images acquired are remarkably precise and clear for a civilian observation satellite!

After being transferred to its launch pad (roll out, in English), Airbus’ Pléiades Neo satellite has acquired a series of satellite images of the SLS launcher (Space Launch System) and Orion vehicle from NASA with a resolution of only 30 centimeters and a level of contrast raised. Developed by Airbus DS, Pléiades Neo is a constellation of four satellites, two of which are currently in orbit. They were launched in April and August 2021.

This constellation has several remarkable features including that of offering images of the ground with a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel over a (mowed) surface of 14 kilometres. A record for this image quality. This explains why it is possible to see on the same picture, the 39B launch pad, the assembly building (Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB), and the 6.4 kilometer road between them. You can also see the crawler (tracked transporter) used to drive the launcher from the VAB to its launch location.

In pictures, the first outing of NASA’s giant SLS rocket

Article of Nathalie Mayer published on 03/18/2022

NASA released yesterday its Space Launch System (SLS) from the hall in which it was assembled at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral (Florida, USA). The powerful launcher that will carry the next human missions to the Moon.

Yesterday, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at the end of the afternoon — around 6 p.m. local time — the Space Launch System (SLS) from NASA — the powerful launcher whose mission will be to bring astronauts on the moon — has finally left the hall of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral (Florida, USA) in which it was assembled. Head to launch pad 39B, a little over six kilometers away.

Six kilometers to the launch pad

Six kilometers is not much. But for a 98.3 meter high SLS launcher, harnessed in a vertical position on its “crawler”this kind of mythical tractor which had been imagined within the framework of the Apollo program and whose point speed does not exceed 1.5 kilometers per hour, it is quite an adventure.

It will thus have taken no less than 11 hours of a cautious expedition to carry the SLS launcher and its more than 1,300 tons – with only its powder boosters loaded – on the no shooting which it could be launched from June 6th. It will be based on the results of the tests he will now take for the next two weeks.

This is the big day ! Nasa’s powerful SLS launcher finally shows itself tomorrow in full

Preparation for the maiden flight of the SLS, NASA’s launch vehicle to return to the Moon, continues. Tomorrow, he will be transferred to his launch pad with the vehicle on board. But only for testing. Its launch for a flight around the Moon could take place in June or July.

Article by Rémy Decourt published on 03/16/2022

The return of the Americans to the Moon is being actively prepared. The delays in the construction of the very powerful and very large SLS launcher are today a bad memory. All the lights seem to be green despite the delay on the initial schedule which provided for a first flight in 2017!

The launcher, with the Orion vehicle on board for the Artemis 1 mission, is currently in its assembly building (Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB), the same one used by space shuttles for their assembly and preparation. After a final review, NASA authorized the installation of the launcher on launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, located several kilometers from the VAB. The operation is scheduled for March 17 and will be broadcast live on Nasa.tv.

This transfer to the launch pad does not mean that the launch is near! Before launching Artemis 1, NASA has scheduled several weeks of checks and tests that will culminate in a complete repeat of the countdown, that is, filling the main stage with liquid hydrogen and oxygen until at the start fire of the four RS-25 engines which, of course, will not take place.

Uncertainty on the launch date

This dress rehearsal should begin on April 3 with the filling operations of the main floor tanks. Assuming all went well, NASA would be considering a launch in June or July. The option of an earlier launch, during the firing window which will open on May 7 and close on May 21, is also being studied.

At the end of this test and its analysis, NASA should be able to announce the launch date.

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