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NASA/Boeing begin prepping SLS core stage for transfer to Florida

NASA & Boeing have now agreed that the static fire test program of the core stage of their SLS rocket has ended successfully, and have begun preparing the stage for its shipment to Florida where it and the entire rocket will be assembled for launch.

While refurbishment activities continue, the team at Stennis has also started disconnecting the stage from the test stand to prepare for departure from Stennis. Weather will be a key factor in when the stage can be put on board the agency’s Pegasus barge to start the waterway tow trip from Stennis to Kennedy, but a late-April arrival at KSC is still possible — with KSC schedules currently forecasting attachment of the Core Stage to the SLS Boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building in mid-May to prepare for launch of Artemis 1.

Though NASA still has a target of November for launch, NASA engineers estimate that it will take ten months to get the core stage in place and ready for launch. This places launch more likely in the February-March ’22 time frame. This schedule of course does not include any possible additional problems along the way, which may delay the launch further.

Even if all goes now as NASA plans, consider the length of this schedule. Though NASA will not require future SLS launches to do a static fire test, just transporting the stage and getting the rocket assembled will likely always take about this long, give or take a few months. Even if NASA streamlines this operation over time, I can’t see it getting shortened to less than five months. That means it will likely be impossible to launch more than one or maybe two SLS rockets per year, a pace that is not very effective if you really want to achieve anything in space. Moreover, that very very optimistic pace would cost about $3 to $5 billion per year, money that has not been appropriated, though considering Congress’s nonchalant attitude towards printing money these days that might not be a problem.

In the end, this rocket as designed is simply not practical or sustainable. It is a financial house of cards, and as soon as a more effective competitor like Starship (or even New Glenn) arrives that house will fall.

In fact, I still consider the odds of Starship/Super Heavy completing an orbital launch before SLS to be better than 50-50. With a likely spring ’22 SLS launch date and SpaceX aiming for a Starship orbital flight in ’21, the odds of SpaceX winning this race I think has just improved.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

7 comments

  • V-Man

    I think we’re going to see another CrewDragon/Starliner situation. SLS will be ready to go first, then something wrong will happen, and while they try to fix it Starship will head to orbit. And again. And again…

  • Jeff Wright

    I look forward to SLS launching myself.

  • Col Beausabre

    But what about the one year time limit on the solid boosters. I understand that it runs out in November

  • Jeff Wright

    Speaking about solids, I wonder if anyone thought about annular solids. A cylindrical torus that wraps around a liquid core. This heats the liquids and reduces hoop stress-maybe as a hybrid? The core slides out and up.

  • Col Beausabre

    Jeff, I think the answer came with the decision to use surplus Shuttle boosters – whether directed by Congress or picked by NASA. I think your idea would be a non-starter under the conditions laid down. The result is what you’d expect from trying to do something on the cheap, you end up spending more than what the “expensive” first option was

  • mkent

    But what about the one year time limit on the solid boosters. I understand that it runs out in November

    February 2022

  • Jeff Wright

    With an annular solid combined with a RENE afterburner-you might just get away with a single RS-68. Smaller solids at least for less cost but wide payloads of lower weight. One paper talked about hypergols augmenting shuttle thrust better had with a RENE fall-away system.
    There is a paper on the shuttle family of mini and micro shuttles Dream Chaser could look at.
    In terms of wings-I had the following idea. A shuttle orbiter would have no payload but the oxidizer tank. Payload goes atop a hydrogen only External Tank made from the start to be a wet stage workshop, with cold-gas thrusters. The orbiter is unmanned. It comes back quickly-it needing less in the way of thermal protection systems than Starship.

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