The Space Launch System (SLS) has been in the works for years, but it’s slowly moving toward its first launch. NASA’s new super rocket got a do-over yesterday, executing a perfect hot fire test that lasted more than eight minutes. That’s a substantial improvement over the January test, during which the failsafe system triggered a shutdown after about a minute. With the “Green Run” finally complete, the SLS is almost ready to get into space.
When complete, the SLS will be the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built. It will leave Earth behind with the aid of two enormous solid rocket boosters and the core stage with its four RS-25 engines. The hot fire test only includes the core stage, which has liquid-fueled engines. The two propellant tanks in the SLS core can hold more than 733,000 gallons of supercooled oxygen and hydrogen fuel.
When it’s all done, the SLS will be able to hoist very heavy payloads into orbit and send them all over the solar system. It’s the heart of the upcoming Artemis mission, which will return humans to the surface of the moon. The SLS is also the preferred launch platform for NASA’s Europa Clipper, but it’s possible that mission could go to a commercial vehicle if the SLS isn’t ready in time.
Applause is heard from the @NASAStennis teams as the Green Run hot fire test concludes. After acquiring eight minutes of data, the teams are now beginning their shutdown procedures. pic.twitter.com/6WPzZm76k6
— NASA (@NASA) March 18, 2021
NASA’s doing everything in its power to ensure the SLS doesn’t fall even further behind schedule. Hot fire tests like this involve attaching the rocket to a test stand and running the engines to simulate the tumult of a real launch. The team got valuable data from the January test, but after going over the rocket again, engineers decided the full eight-minute test would help to validate the core stage for launch. Coincidentally, this also shows the SLS can fire long enough for a real launch.
The SLS is a non-reusable vehicle, unlike SpaceX’s still-in-development Starship or the smaller Falcon 9. This SLS still has legs, though. NASA is working on refurbishing the rocket, and then it’ll be shipped off to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, engineers will assemble the full rocket with its twin solid boosters and the Orion spacecraft. If all goes as planned, the SLS could have its maiden flight (Artemis 1) in November 2021. This launch won’t have a crew aboard the Orion capsule, but in or around 2024, NASA hopes to land a crew on the moon as part of Artemis 3.
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