NASA today announced that it was postponing the second SLS static fire test of the rocket’s core stage due to a valve issue in its main engines.
NASA said it was postponing the Green Run static-fire test, which had been scheduled for Feb. 25, after discovering a problem with one of eight valves called “prevalves” associated with the stage’s four RS-25 main engines. The valve, which supplies liquid oxygen, was “not working properly,” NASA said in a statement, but didn’t elaborate on the problem.
Engineers identified the problem during preparations over the weekend for the test. NASA said it will work with Boeing, the prime contractor for the core stage, to “identify a path forward in the days ahead and reschedule the hot fire test” but did not set a new date for the test.
This was not the first time Boeing and NASA has had valve problems with the rocket, though this problem appears unrelated to the previous issue.
Either way, the continuing technical problems — such as the two previous aborts during testing — does not build confidence in the rocket. First, the schedule is very tight, and is getting tighter. Its first unmanned test flight was supposed to happen by the end of this year, and right now that looks very unlikely. Yet, it must happen within the next twelve months because they have begun stacking the strap-on solid rocket boosters, and those have a sell-by date.
More important, these issues raise big red flags as to the overall trustworthiness of the rocket. I certainly would not want to fly on it, at least not until I see it fly at least a half dozen times successfully. The problems however suggest that achieving such a track record is going to be quite difficult.
And if SLS has any major failures during any launch, be prepared for Congress’s support to finally collapse, especially with the on-going spectacular progress being achieved by SpaceX with Starship along with two Falcon Heavy launches planned for this year.
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