In a briefing today, NASA officials confirmed that they are proceeding with their September 27, 2022 first launch of the SLS rocket, having obtained a waiver from the Space Force’s range office on testing the batteries for the flight termination system that would destroy the rocket should it begin flying out of control.
During a Sept. 23 teleconference, NASA announced an extension for the flight termination system battery certification, which expired after 25 days on Sept. 6. Now the Space Force’s Eastern Range has granted a waiver to allow the rocket to launch as late as Oct. 2 before needing to be returned to the Vehicle Assembly building to recertify the batteries.
The flight termination system is only used in the event the rocket veers off course during a launch anomaly.
Note that the 25 day use-by limit was actually an extension itself, as these batteries had been previously required testing every 20 days. Now the range is willing to let them go for as long about 50 days without testing, a two and half times increase.
If the rules before — based on engineering — said the batteries were not reliable after 20 days, why are those batteries now considered reliable up to 50 days? What facts or data does NASA or the Space Force have to allow this waiver? And if they have no data, it seems almost criminal to allow the go-ahead of this launch of a giant untested rocket on its first lift-off. Should something go seriously wrong — which is not that unlikely — and the flight termination system fails to work, we could see a very big rocket careening out-of-control into populated areas.
We all hope SLS launches with no problem on September 27th. We now have a really serious reason for that desire.
Regardless, the launch is now scheduled for a 70-minute launch window that opens at 11:37 am (Eastern) on September 27th, with a back-up launch window on October 2nd of 102 minutes beginning at 2:52 pm (Eastern).
Meanwhile, a developing tropical storm could put a kabosh on all these plans, forcing NASA to roll SLS back to the assembly building anyway. NASA managers plan to meet again before launch to make a decision.