NASA engineers today successfully completed the tanking test of the agency’s SLS rocket, completing all objectives after successfully dealing with a hydrogen fuel leak at the beginning of fueling.
The four main objectives for the demonstration included assessing the repair to address the hydrogen leak identified on the previous launch attempt, loading propellants into the rocket’s tanks using new procedures, conducting the kick-start bleed, and performing a pre-pressurization test. The new cryogenic loading procedures and ground automation were designed to transition temperature and pressures slowly during tanking to reduce the likelihood of leaks that could be caused by rapid changes in temperature or pressure. After encountering the leak early in the operation, teams further reduced loading pressures to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the demonstration test. The pre-pressurization test enabled engineers to calibrate the settings used for conditioning the engines during the terminal count and validate timelines before launch day to reduce schedule risk during the countdown on launch day.
Teams will evaluate the data from the test, along with weather and other factors, before confirming readiness to proceed into the next launch opportunity. The rocket remains in a safe configuration as teams assess next steps. [emphasis mine]
The highlighted words are key. NASA has proposed a September 27, 2022 launch date. For that launch to occur, the rocket must remain on the launchpad, where it is impossible to check the batteries for operating the flight termination system used by the military range office to destroy the rocket should it go wildly out of control during launch. To check the batteries they need to roll it back to the assembly building, and one week is simply not enough time.
The vagueness of the highlighted language suggests that NASA has not yet gotten a waiver from the range for that date. Nor should it. Those batteries normally have a 20-day limit. On September 27th they will been unchecked for about 42 days, well past their use-by date.
This will be the first test launch of this rocket. Such first launches very frequently go wrong, and if SLS goes wrong, it would go wrong in a very big way, considering the size of the rocket. To do such a risky launch with a questionable flight termination system would not simply be improper it would be downright criminal.
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