First SLS launch faces more delays


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No surprise here: The scheduled June 2020 first unmanned launch of NASA’s Space System Launch (SLS), already delayed by three years, appears threatened by more delays.

[NASA needs to perform]a similar structural test of the liquid oxygen fuel tank before what is known as a “green run” test. For this exercise, NASA will assemble the two large tanks and then integrate them with the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines. Then, at a test stand in southern Mississippi, the rocket will fire its engines through a standard launch of the rocket.

NASA has yet to formally set a date for this “green run” test, but whenever it does occur will be a key indicator for when we will see the first actual launch of the SLS rocket. If the green run test is conducted late in 2019, there would still be a chance for a 2020 launch. However, the agency and its prime contractor for the core stage, Boeing, are on a tight timeline that has little margin for technical problems that might occur during the structural tests of the tank or the green run tests. Historically, during this integration and test process with other large rocket programs, major problems have often occurred.

It is not clear how deeply the shutdown affected the SLS timeline, even though core stage work did proceed. “The shutdown impacted at least day for day,” one source said of the schedule. “But I am sure it was more than that.”

NASA originally planned to launch the SLS rocket on its maiden flight in November 2017, so the rocket will now be at least three years later than originally anticipated. The program’s budget is more than $2 billion a year, so these delays have cost the agency considerably.

The article also outlines the problems NASA is having developing the rocket’s upper stage.

I predict that the June 2020 launch will slip, maybe as much as six months, into 2021. This means the first manned flight will also be delayed into 2024, at the earliest.

That means it will have taken NASA more than twenty years and more than $60 billion to build and fly a single manned mission. Moreover, the cost and difficulty of operating SLS will make it impossible to get the second manned flight off the ground any earlier than three to four years later, at the earliest.

There is no chance the U.S. will put new footprints on the Moon if it continues to rely on this boondoggle. Worse, a continued reliance on SLS will force the government, for political reasons, to use its power to squelch competing private efforts, something we are seeing with the endless delays NASA has imposed on the commercial crew program.

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3 comments

  • M Puckett

    I think Elon has pretty much said ‘eff it!’ with regards to showing up NASA at this point and knows it is a luxury he can no longer afford.

    Starship may well land on the moon in time for the first crew of Orion to wave as they pass by overhead.

  • Children of Mercury and Apollo

    IMHO.
    Because of the politics the next set of footsteps on the Moon will NOT be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida but will depart, safely out of it’s reach, from Kopernik Shores, Texas

    It is Elon’s “Hold my Beer” moment. Tom, Gwen & Co. will make it happen – the “stainless steely-eyed missile men and women”.

    The company has sucked it up, trimmed expenses, picked up the pace to “ramming speed”, turned up the music to “11”, and is ready for a sprint to the Moon then Mars.

    The Overton Window WRT spaceflight is continuing to move, the effects are being felt around the globe and soon in the heavens above.

    As God and Robert Heinlein intended, envisioned by Chesley Bonestell and dreamed by many engineers.

  • wodun

    Rest assured, NASA will have crew on board a SpaceX ship when Americans return to the Moon.

    It is rather funny that after all this time, they choose to blame the shutdown. Can’t recall them making that excuse before but maybe they have.

    What troubles me isn’t that this program staggers on through inertia but that the companies involved keep getting business from the government.

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