NASA wants to take humans back to the moon. The agency has been aiming for an uncrewed Artemis I around-the-moon mission later in 2021, but first it needs a functioning moon rocket. The agency is gearing up for a second try at a critical hot fire test of its Space Launch System.
NASA announced on Monday it is “reviewing the performance of a valve on the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket before proceeding with a second hot fire test.” Engineers discovered the valve — part of a system that supplies liquid oxygen to an engine — wasn’t working properly. The SLS team will troubleshoot the issue, but that means the test will have to happen later than hoped.
The hot fire is the final part of the “Green Run” series of tests designed to check out the core stage of SLS before it actually launches off of Earth. NASA refers to the core stage as “the backbone of the SLS rocket.”
Hot fires are dramatic affairs that are meant to simulate the rigor of launch conditions. While the SLS core stage shut down safely during the test at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, it shut down way too early.
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“After analyzing initial data, the team determined that the shutdown after firing the engines for 67.2-seconds on Jan. 16 was triggered by test parameters that were intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage during the test,” NASA said in a statement on Jan. 19. The agency will aim to make it to eight minutes during the do-over.
NASA reported the core stage, its engines and the test stand were all in “excellent condition” with no major repairs needed before the next attempt.
While Artemis I won’t have humans on board, later SLS missions will be responsible for safely escorting astronauts into space. “All SLS rockets use the same core stage design, NASA said, “so a second Green Run hot fire will reduce risk for not only Artemis I, but also for all future SLS missions.”