NASA today announced that it is now targeting September 27, 2022 for the first test launch of its SLS rocket and Orion capsule.
Engineers have — on the launchpad — completed the repair work on the hydrogen leak that caused the previous launch scrubs. The plan now is to do a test fueling on September 21st to see if the repair worked.
If all is then well, the agency wants to launch on September 27th. To do so however NASA needs to get the approval of the safety range office to waive the use-by date of the batteries used to terminate the flight after launch, should something go seriously wrong. The rules require those batteries to be checked every 20 days, and as of today they have been in use for 31 days. The range had already given NASA a five day waiver so it could try to launch on September 5. To launch on September 27th will require the range to allow those batteries to remain unchecked for 46 days, more than double their accepted use-by date.
For the range to allow such a waiver would be I think entirely unprecedented, especially for the very first launch of a new rocket. Such test launches are exceedingly risky. A lot can go wrong, and often does when a rocket tries to fly for the first time. To allow such a lift-off with a questionable flight termination system seems completely insane and irrational.
NASA is also proposing an October 2nd launch date. I suspect this date is based on the range safety office refusing to give this waiver. If so, NASA would then do its September 21st fueling test on the launchpad, quickly roll the rocket back to the assembly building to check the batteries, and then try to get it back to the launch pad in time for that October 2nd date.
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