NASA has now scheduled the next static fire test of the core stage of its SLS rocket for March 18th.
NASA attempted the hot fire test on January 16, but computers terminated the test after 67 seconds instead of 485 seconds because of the conservative test parameters that were set. This is not a test vehicle, but the actual core stage that will be used for the first SLS launch. NASA needs to ensure the testing does not damage it.
NASA decided to redo the test and scheduled it for February 25, but a problem with a pre-valve forced another delay.
If this March test is successful, it will take a month to prep the core stage for shipment by barge to Florida, where it will take several months to prep it for launch linked to its two solid rocket boosters now stacked and ready for launch. If that schedule moves fast, NASA is still aiming for a late ’21 launch, though most industry experts expect that date to shift into early ’22.
If the March test has any problems however this schedule goes out the window. Worse, it increases the chance that the two boosters will have reached the end of their 12-month use-by date (approximately December ’21), and will have to be dissembled and inspected. If that happens the launch will certainly be delayed by many months.
There is another possibility. NASA might waive that 12-month use-by date requirement for the boosters. If the agency does this, however, it will be another example of the same management mistakes that caused both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle failures, a desire to put aside proper engineering to meet a schedule.
One more thought: That it takes about four months to assemble the solid rocket boosters for SLS illustrates well the cumbersome and inefficient nature of this rocket. Launches not only cannot happen within days, they really cannot happen for months. Depending on such a rocket with such a low launch cadence will make the exploration of the solar system practically impossible.
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