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NASA to roll SLS back to assembly building, delaying launch by weeks at minimum

NASA managers today decided they will not attempt another launch of SLS during the present launch window that closes on September 6, 2022, and will bring the rocket back to assembly building for more detailed trouble-shooting.

Engineers not only need to solve the hydrogen fuel leak in a fuel line connection that caused today’s launch scrub, they will also have to replace the flight termination batteries needed in case the rocket has to be destroyed during liftoff because it is flying out of control. These batteries only have a few weeks life, and the launch delays this week caused them to reach their limit.

The next launch windows are either from September 19 to October 4, excluding September 29-30, or October 17 to October 31, excluding October 24, 25, 26, and 28.

At that point SLS’s two solid rocket strap-on boosters will have been stacked for about two years, one full year past what NASA once considered their safe lifespan. The agency has waived that rule for SLS, but waiving it for more than a full year might simply be too risky. If the boosters need to be replaced, that will delay the launch by at least another three months, at the minimum.

Right now the odds remain high this launch will not occur in 2022.

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32 comments

  • Jeff Wright

    I always had this inkling that SLS and Starship Full-Stack would fly within hours of one another.

    There is a way of things.

    One will rise….one will fall.

  • Doug Booker

    I didn’t listen to the news conference. Did any news agency ask how much this delay is going to cost the taxpayers??? I don’t care how neat SLS looks. It is 45 year old technology that should be put in the KSC rocket garden.

  • David Ross

    SpaceX: Foxes
    NASA and Congress: Fossils

  • As Bob Seger might say:

    “Roll, roll me away
    Won’t you roll me away tonight
    My fires didn’t light
    And I didn’t take flight
    And there’s someplace that I’d rather be”

  • wayne

    “It’s Only A Paper Moon” (1933) –
    Paul Whiteman Orchestra with Peggy Healy
    https://youtu.be/rbB4Qgw6jZw
    3:24

  • GaryMike

    Congress is an inertia for which NASA has no defense.

    The really smart people really aren’t.

    It’s showing.

    Stupid people thinking they’re the cat’s pizazz.

    Line the pols up against the wall. Use spray paint cans to express our estimation of their actual usefulness to humanity.

    Stop voting for these losers.

    They wouldn’t be a thing if we actually knew WTF we’re doing when we vote.

    This is on all of us.

  • Shallow Minded Reader

    Gary, are you certain that we really actually for them? Did anyone do a forensic audit of the paper ballots?

  • Lee S

    No offence my American friends…. But who exactly would you vote for that would stop throwing good money after bad on SLS?
    It makes for amusing watching over this side of the pond, but I’m not paying for it… If I was a tax payer in the US I’d be spitting feathers.
    NASA is an inspiration to the whole world, their robotic missions are peerless, literally out of this world, but it’s become obvious that human spaceflight is better left to private enterprise.
    I don’t know how anyone could actually stop the juggernaut that is the SLS, but it needs to be done, and soon. I was hoping for a big boom this weekend, and the whole project being put to bed. It seems it will drag on and on, wasting your dollars that could be put to much better use.

    The worst thing that could happen IMO is after another couple of months there is a flawless launch.. fingers crossed for that big boom.

  • Col Beausabre

    They’ll launch even if it kills someone. They are that desperate. I can smell it where I live,, over a thousand miles away. My hope is the Eastern Test Range RSO says “I don’t care that you have waivered the boosters. I will not let the equivalent a tactical nuclear weapon detonation occur in the middle of the Cape. PROVE to me it is safe to launch.” Lee S – NASA isa very big organization. While one hand may be successful (now – wait ’til space science and exploration is taken out of their hands by private organizations What is to stop a couple of universities from designing and building their own probe to research what they – not NASA or the NSF – wants and they hire Joe’s Booster Company to send it on its way from its private spaceport? Imagine the screaming!) doesn’t mean the other needs to be. The NASAlegend greatly overstates its current abilities

  • GaryMike

    Shallow Minded Reader:”Gary, are you certain that we really actually for them?”

    We’re sharing the same suspicion.

  • GaryMike

    Lee S:

    SLS in not a NASA project.

    It is Congress’s project. Voter’s need other people’s money to vote for them.

    Lead is cheaper.

  • wayne

    The Myth:
    Marooned (1969)
    “Launching the rescue rocket through the eye of a hurricane…”
    https://youtu.be/yD1hbplN4DE?t=147
    6:53

    The reality:

    Armageddon (1998)
    “You Guys Are NASA….”
    https://youtu.be/_B7MzBmjaJ8
    0:32

  • wayne

    {FYI–the rocket launch sequences in the 1969 movie Marooned actually show a Titan IIIC.
    Three different night launches were conducted in 1967, 68, and early ’69.}

  • Diane E Wilson

    SLS will eventually stop itself. There is no other way. Hopefully it will take fewer launch failures than the N-1. One launch failure and the subsequent Congressional investigation should do the trick.

  • churchjack

    SLS is functioning as designed: to launder $$, not to launch. I called it before the first attempt. Man, I wish I had bet on it!

  • churchjack: You might want to read this 2011 essay by me. I was a little earlier in describing SLS for what it is.

  • mivenho

    Why do the SRBs have such a relatively short shelf life?

  • mivenho: As I understand it, the solid rocket fuel can become distorted by its own weight over time, and thus might not burn properly when lit. The shuttle boosters were four segments, while SLS’s are five segments. They thus have even more mass pushing down on the lower segments.

    Much of this is caution. I suspect it really isn’t fully known how much time these boosters can stand, fully stacked.

  • pzatchok

    Its not like the whole of the US can vote against the very few congressmen and senators who are in charge of this problem.
    They keep getting elected because first the workers are in a union and we know what unions do. They force a vote to keep their jobs. Second the companies give generously to those who vote to keep their projects funded. And third no one wants to bring a huge project to an end because then someone gets the blame for spending the money on it.

    Its like someone said once.
    If you owe the bank a little money your going to get in trouble for it. But if you owe the bank a HUGE amount of money someone at the bank will get in trouble.

  • Mitch S.

    ” I don’t care how neat SLS looks. It is 45 year old technology that should be put in the KSC rocket garden.”

    The irony is that SLS using old tech was supposed to be a feature.
    Someone building a hotrod can create a unique body but can’t afford to develop/build an engine and transmission so they use pre-existing hardware. Likewise NASA said they already got the engines, no expensive development needed, just build a tube for fuel tanks and put a capsule on it -easy as pie, we’ve been doing that for 60 years.

    ” I suspect it really isn’t fully known how much time these boosters can stand, fully stacked.”

    I don’t doubt it but if there is anyplace that has experts on big solid rockets it’s gotta be NASA (and Thiokol/ATK/NG).
    Already seems a bit odd to me that the max stack time was 1 year but now it can get a 100% extension to 2 years or more?
    And if SLS was a real program following the original concept, SRB life would not be a problem, they’d have replacements ready to go (simple, known hardware some literally “off the shelf”) and swap them with the old ones in a few weeks.
    Maybe the engineers who knew these systems are long retired and the current bunch are just guessing.
    At least this flight is unmanned…

  • Mitch S.

    Although no lives are at stake for this first SLS launch, a failure will be a crushing blow because they have so many eggs in that rare basket.
    Meanwhile when SpaceX blows up a Starship etc, they just pull more hardware out of the closet and move on (and the NASA Lucys get no joy).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqrCO9Aj3Ys

  • Mike Borgelt

    I’m surprised that there aren’t sensors on the inside of the solid fuel grains that could measure any slumping. OTOH I once knew a guy who’s job at the time was predicting whether the Royal Australian Air Force’s Sidewinder missiles were still safe to fire. Shrinkage and cracking of the grain was the problem. Cracks are really bad as the burn area drastically increases and the resulting pressure spikes can explode thevehicle.

  • John C

    Lee S, none taken!

  • GaryMike

    RZ:

    “…As I understand it, the solid rocket fuel can become distorted by its own weight over time…”

    I have read that voids are engineered into the propellant as a means of throttle control: less burning fuel, less thrust (Max-Q throttle down, for instance).

    One would imagine that, over time, a viscous solid propellant would slough into the voids and affect throttle control when/where it’s needed.

  • Jeff Wright

    Better to have inevitable leaks on the ground than in-orbit depots.

    Here is a homework assignment for you—
    AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY’s Aug. 10, 2009’s issue…page 29…Bohdan Bejmuk’s comments…he of the Augustine panel…

    —and page 24 of the November 7, 2011 issue, where it states it would take “36 D-IV heavies or 24 Falcon Heavies” due to boil off I suspect.

    This happens in Starship refueling in orbit—tell me the hazard there.

  • john hare

    Jeff,
    Leaks in orbit dissipate in the vacuum creating no fire or explosion hazard.
    For the 36 D-IV or 24 FH, put a pencil on it yourself to see how wrong that statement is. Either group would be well over 1,000 tons in orbit.

  • sippin_bourbon

    COL B
    “What is to stop a couple of universities from designing and building their own probe to research what they – not NASA or the NSF – wants and they hire Joe’s Booster Company to send it on its way from its private spaceport?”

    Isn’t that the ideal goal.
    I will go as far as to say that Rocket Lab has, so far, accomplished the ideal on a very small scale.

    Rocket Lab had the first completely private space port, in 2018. CAPSTONE was built by a private company, but for a NASA mission.
    They have launched non-government customers, on their purely private rockets, from a private spaceport in NZ. Some of their customers have been universities, but often in partnership with NASA or a private company that has a goal outside of research.

    Not even SpaceX can make this claim, as all their launches are from NASA or USSF owned turf. The same with ULA, Northrup Grumman, and other small sat launchers. SpaceX is planning to change that, in Boca Chica, of course.

    (Virgin Orbit might be able to make the claim, as any runway to fly Cosmic Girl out of could be a private strip, but I have not researched their flights. I do not count any of the so-called private companies in China, because I doubt they are private.)

    Of course, most of these are commercial ventures. Your original question goes back to Universities picking and choosing their own research goals, outside of the Decadal Survey controlled by the NSF and NASA. It is happening, already, as stated, on a very small scale.

  • sippin_bourbon

    By pure chance, I will be in South Central Florida the week of 19th, for about 2 weeks.
    This was a preplanned trip for other reasons.

    If they actually fix things by then, I will probably find a reason to get away to the cape. Gotta remember to pack the camera and bino’s.

    If it flies successfully, great. If not, maybe I will get pics of some of the fireworks.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Lee S, you are preaching to the American choir. But in reality, that “choir” (comprising people who understand the problem, and actually care) is a tiny fraction of the voting population. I work at a very successful space communications company, and I’d say 95% of my coworkers have not a clue about the importance of SpaceX and the insanity of SLS. We’ve sold to SpaceX, but those sales probably amount to .01% of the total. Mostly it’s USG and the usual suspects, Boeing, Lockheed et al. So we actually have a corporate incentive to support the status quo—that’s where the money is. SpaceX’s preference for vertical integration exacerbates this situation: if your company has a vast array of subcontractors, the interests of all those subcontractors, and of their various legislative representatives, will be aligned with your own. So SpaceX’s brilliant iconoclasm generates its own political opposition. As the song says… sad but true.

  • Daniel Kaczynski

    sippin_bourbon, I hope you have a nice trip, but puh-leeez do not get too close to the Soviet N1…….
    oooops, I mean, the Soviet SLS……. oooops again! I mean the, ahem, “American” SLS. History can be fun
    to read about in a book, but if you get too close to a rocket designed by a Soviet style political system
    you might become part of the blast scar.

  • Edward

    mivenho asked: “Why do the SRBs have such a relatively short shelf life?

    For the same reason those pesky abort batteries have such a relatively short shelf life. SLS is not supposed to be a hanger queen but is supposed to fly soon after stacking is complete.

    Meanwhile, back to the hangar the queen goes.

    Mitch S. wrote: “And if SLS was a real program following the original concept, SRB life would not be a problem, they’d have replacements ready to go (simple, known hardware some literally “off the shelf”) and swap them with the old ones in a few weeks.

    Maybe, but there may be a shelf life that begins with filling each SRB section. Preparing them too early may create additional problems. It may be one thing to have some in storage when the next Space Shuttle is going to launch in a few months, but it may be another when the next SLS won’t be stacked for another couple of years.

    Meanwhile when SpaceX blows up a Starship etc, they just pull more hardware out of the closet and move on (and the NASA Lucys get no joy).

    The major difference is that SpaceX is still early in its development phase, where failure is expected, since the technology being developed is very different than past technologies. As part of the rapid development strategy, SpaceX has the next test unit (or two) under construction while testing the current unit.

    NASA is testing the already fully developed SLS, at a phase where failures should be minor inconveniences, not revelations of how to not do things. One has to wonder, as Robert has done out loud, whether NASA tested any of these currently troublesome systems early in the design phase or whether they assumed that they would work, due to similarity to previous designs.

    It may be fun to watch rockets blow up, but it is bad for rockets to blow up when they are already supposed to work right. It would be better if SLS were retired due to economic obsolescence than due to bad technical design. It is too expensive to use for most space projects and launches too infrequently to sustain any manned outpost.

    John hare wrote: “For the 36 D-IV or 24 FH, put a pencil on it yourself to see how wrong that statement is. Either group would be well over 1,000 tons in orbit.

    There may have been an anticipation for a lot of boil off at an orbital propellant depot. A solution would be: condense and chill the boil off and pump it back into the tank. This may require a few solar panels for the needed power, but the panels may be used as sun shades for the propellant tanks.

  • Jeff Wright

    Assuming that works. SLS is still cheaper than 36 D-IVs. Boeing WANTED the boil-off to sell their EELVs. Mike Griffin saw right through that-and I wrote letters to Shelby in defense of HLLVs over depots-even though my state would have made MORE money off endless EELV only plans. STARSHIP is both HLLV and depot, if successful. But leaks in LEO will be a pain. The point of SLS is to use lots of light hydrolox all at once in one big main stage-swapping out that for inertia that can’t leak. No refueling-no Rube Goldberg. The reasoning is still sound.

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