NASA delays launch of Space Launch System after glitch test

The Orion spacecraft is stacked atop the Space Launch System (SLS).

The Orion spacecraft is stacked atop the Space Launch System (SLS).
Photo: NASA / Frank Michaux

A misbehaving engine computer means that the inaugural launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, scheduled to be the world’s most powerful rocket, will not take place in February 2022 as planned.

From fully stacked The SLS, with its 74,000-pound (33.5 metric tons) Orion spacecraft, is undergoing integrated testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building in Florida. These tests come in the context of awaiting the rehearsal, the date of which has not yet been determined, in which a propellant will be added to the rocket’s fuel tanks. The successful experiment, in turn, will pave the way for the actual launch – the highly anticipated Artemis 1 unmanned mission to the moon and back.

NASA plans to use 332-foo. to usetall (101 meters) for upcoming lunar missions, but a recent test bug means we’ll have to wait a little longer – but hopefully not much longer – to finally see this behemoth in the Florida sky. Once complete, the SLS will become the world’s most powerful rocket, although that crown may soon be stolen by SpaceX’s fully-stacked spacecraft, which is also set to launch for the first time next year.

NASA's checklist, working for the inaugural historic launch of the SLS.

NASA’s checklist, working for the inaugural historic launch of the SLS.
fee: NASA

NASA, which conducts the integrated test, ensures that That Orion, the initial stage, and the two booster rockets communicate well with ground systems. During a recent initial phase power test, NASA engineers discovered a problem with the flight control module of the RS-25 engine. Here’s how NASA described the problem:

The flight controller acts as a “brain” for each RS-25 engine, communicating with the SLS missile to provide precise engine control and internal health diagnostics. Each console is equipped with two channels so that there is a backup in case there is a problem with one of the channels during launch or boot. In the last test, the B-channel of the fourth engine control unit was not working stably.

Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines were borrowed from the Space Shuttle program, but modified to provide additional power. Where the Space Shuttle had three of these engines, the primary stage of the SLS has four. Surprisingly, the engine flight controller is not working well, Because it worked normally during the first full test in a during the Hot full duration The test took place in March 2021, according to NASA.

When they discovered the problem, technicians ran checks and continued troubleshooting, but eventually decided to replace the problematic ECU. NASA says the rocket has “returned to full functionality,” but engineers will continue to investigate the cause of the problem. The space agency is now looking at launch options in March and April. If the timelines revealed by Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin in October remain valid, launch windows will remain. mid March and the middleApril.

There is still a lot of work to be done, including more connectivity tests, countdown sequence tests, and a final study of the SLS and Orion functions. The rehearsal will be a milestone, after which NASA will provide a firm launch date.

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Winton Frazier

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