The core stage of NASA’s SLS rocket has arrived in Florida and has now begun the processing to get it ready for launch anywhere from six to ten months from now.
Approximately six months of work is anticipated to finish assembly and complete a long series of tests and checkouts of SLS and the Orion spacecraft it will send to the Moon, but current forecasts of this first-time integration work estimate closer to ten months to complete the necessary operations. After the vehicle is put together, weeks and weeks of testing to make sure SLS and Orion are properly talking to each other, as well as the EGS ground infrastructure, will follow.
…Recent schedules showed the remainder of work to reach launch readiness extending for ten months once the core stage arrived. That time includes six months of operations to the “work to” launch readiness and four months of “risk factor”. The “work to” launch readiness date, which would still have to synchronize to a lunar launch window, is currently early-November 2021. With risk factored in, a date of early-March 2022 is derived.
NASA has not yet changed that November ’21 target for launch, though all reports strongly suggest it cannot be met.
Regardless, even if they can get this thing launched by November, the long prep time shows once again how cumbersome and inefficient this rocket would be if anyone tried to use it to explore space. NASA says that after this first launch the prep time will be shorter, but even if it is trimmed to three months (the best estimate I’ve seen) it simply isn’t good enough. SpaceX has already demonstrated that is can fly two different Starship prototypes in less than thirty days (with #10 flying March 3rd and #11 flying March 30th). The company’s goal is many flights frequently, and it so far is proving that this goal will be achievable. And it will do it placing more payload in orbit for pennies (compared to the cost of SLS).
I still predict that there is a better than 50% chance that the first orbital launch of Starship/Superheavy will occur before SLS, even though the former began actual hardware development only two years ago.
I also think that we are now in the final stages of the entire SLS program. As with all similar big NASA-led rocket projects started since the mid-1980s, it will die stillborn. The previous projects never even got built after spending billions on blueprints and powerpoint presentations. SLS will likely get at least two flights (assuming nothing goes wrong with the first). After that NASA and the federal government will shut it down because by that time there will be far better and cheaper options available.
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