The inaugural launch of NASA’s Space Launch System will not take place in February 2022 as scheduled.
With the 74,000-pound (33.5-metric-ton) Orion spacecraft placed on top, the completely stacked SLS is presently undergoing integrated testing within NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Florida’s Vehicle Assembly facility. These tests are in preparation for the yet-to-be-scheduled dress rehearsal, which will involve the addition of propellant to the rocket’s fuel tanks. A successful rehearsal would pave the way for the much-anticipated uncrewed Artemis 1 voyage to the Moon and back.
Indeed, NASA intends to utilize the 332-foot-tall (101-meter) rocket for future Moon missions, but the latest testing failure means we’ll have to wait a little longer to watch this giant fly over the Florida sky. When completed, SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket, though that title might be quickly taken by SpaceX’s Starship, which is also set to fly for the first time in 2022.
NASA is doing integrated testing to ensure that Orion, the core stage, and the two booster rockets interact correctly with ground equipment. During the core stage power test, NASA engineers discovered a problem with an RS-25 engine flight controller.
The Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines were acquired from the Space Shuttle program and modified to offer more power. The Space Shuttle consists of three engines, whereas the SLS core stage has four. So it’s unexpected that the engine flight controller is acting up, considering that it worked smoothly throughout early integrated testing and the full duration test in March 2021, according to NASA.
After discovering the problem, engineers did more inspections and troubleshooting before replacing the problematic engine controller. The rocket has “returned to full functionality,” according to NASA, although experts are investigating the cause of the incident. The space agency is examining launch possibilities for March and April right now. The launch windows will be in mid-March and mid-April if the dates supplied by Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin in October are correct.
However, a lot of work is still pending, including further communications tests, countdown sequence testing, and final SLS and Orion functional checks. The dress rehearsal will be a significant milestone, after which NASA will announce a definitive launch date.