NASA managers today decided that they had to scrub their attempt to launch SLS on September 27, 2022 due to a hurricane threatening Florida, and are instead preparing to roll the rocket back to the assembly building to protect it.
During a meeting Saturday morning, teams decided to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Engineers deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday, Sept. 25, to allow for additional data gathering and analysis. If Artemis I managers elect to roll back, it would begin late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
This will likely delay the launch until the late October launch window, or the mid-November window, as shown in this graph [pdf]. During this time engineers will certainly test and recharge the batteries that run the rocket’s flight termination system so that there will be no question they will work should the Space Force safety range officer need to destroy the rocket during launch.
NASA however now faces another quandary it has been avoiding for the past year. The stacking of the five segments of SLS’s two solid rocket strap-on boosters began in November 2020, two years ago. During the shuttle era and until last year, NASA had a rule that said a booster must launch within a year of stacking. The fear was that the weight of the solid rocket fuel could distort it over time, and possibly cause it to burn improperly once ignited. As these boosters are the equivalent of firecrackers — once you light them you can’t turn them off — NASA had chosen, until last year, to have a use-by date of one year for the boosters.
Now however NASA has abandoned that rule. The boosters have been stacked for twice that time, and the agency has to ask if it will be safe to use them. To change them out however will take at least three months, if not longer. The present set of boosters would have to be removed, and a new set stacked and installed.
I fully expect NASA to stay with these boosters, despite their age, once again violating its own safety rules, as it did routinely during the shuttle era (resulting in the loss of two shuttles and the death of fourteen astronauts). Though no humans will be on this test flight, this sloppy engineering culture clearly threatens the lives of the astronauts who will fly on the second Artemis SLS mission, around the Moon.
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