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SLS launch delayed until August, at the earliest

In describing its plans for doing a second dress rehearsal countdown of its SLS rocket in June, NASA officials yesterday noted that they have delayed the actual launch until an August launch window so they will have time to do a third dress rehearsal before that launch.

But Free warned the issues are complex and it’s possible more than one tanking test will be required to thoroughly test the complex systems in the SLS rocket and their interaction with the ground systems that provide propellants, power and other critical elements. He said the August launch windows would “allow us to do two wet dress rehearsal attempts if we need them.”

“We are optimistic that we only need one more based on everything we’ve been able to do thus far to fine tune our tanking procedures,” he said. “But we also want to be realistic and upfront with you that it may take more than one attempt to get the procedures where we need them.”

According to this SpacePolicyOnline report, NASA has also mapped out additional launch windows for September through December.

In reviewing every news story about yesterday’s press conference, I could not find any that asked the agency about the status of SLS’s two solid rocket strap-on boosters. Both have now been stacked for more than seventeen months, and by August will have been stacked for twenty months, eight months past NASA’s use-by rule of one year. Either the past rules were too conservative, or NASA is simply ignoring the possibility that those boosters might no longer be viable. In either case, it is disappointing no reporter asked about this.

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  • David Eastman

    I think I said this in a comment here before, but apparently that “one year” value for how long a booster can sit stacked was a complete guess, nobody had a clue, they didn’t feel it was a real problem, but they had a line on the paperwork to fill out and so they put down “one year” as a time that they were totally confident in, and would be greater than any delay they expected in the shuttle program. But now they are past that point, and still have no real data on how the fuel might sag, and at what point it will become an issue, so they’re just going by a “we’ll inspect periodically and see if it looks good or not” methodology for this launch. I haven’t seen an official confirmation, but I had heard that they did an inspection not long ago, and saw basically no sag at all so far. So the booster lifetime is possibly a non-issue.

  • Since I’m the one who asked, “how does a solid rocket booster go bad?”, I’ll continue to expose my ignorance: Why not make another one (or two, in this case)?

    I’m sure it’s tricky to mix a bunch of explosive goo and pour it into a canister, but it’s not as if the US government has suddenly been struck with austerity.

    And, if they can sit around for two years, why not start, anyway? IIRC, there is supposed to be more than one launch of this multi-billion dollar rocket.

    21 days is quite a bit longer than SpaceX’s goal for Falcon 9 turn-around, but surely 21 months is not asking too much of SLS.

  • David Eastman

    Markedup2, they are indeed already casting additional segments for the later launches. It’s not like they cant replace the existing boosters if that ends up being necessary. The problem is mostly with the time required, the boosters are shipped from Utah to Florida in I believe 6 separate pieces which then have to be assembled, and once assembled, attached to the core rocket. And in the normal process, the boosters are the first things attached to the launch platform, and then the core is dropped down between them and attached, and finally the upper stage and capsule are stacked on top. I don’t think the core is designed to stand on the platform without boosters, nor is it designed to be craned out with the upper and capsule on top of it, so to replace the boosters, they have to take the rocket completely apart, then assemble the boosters and re-stack the whole rocket. The initial assembly process took nearly a full year last time around. It will go faster the second time presumably, but then you have to factor in the disassembly part, and it could easily be another year of delay before launch if they have to replace the boosters.

  • Edward

    I have said before that a month for month slip is a bad thing. It suggests that the project is never going to be finished. SLS is now slipping faster than time passes; two months from last month. Actually, it has slipped three months in the past month. This is a very bad sign for any project.

  • Jeff Wright

    We have ICBMs going for years. Different beasts, I know.

  • Steven Carleton

    Hehe, why should NASA be held to a higher standard than the DoD? The F-35, the Ford Class carrier, the OV-22, etc. were all horrifically over budget. This is how the DC swamp does hi-tech. But not to worry, the percentage of the overall federal budget earmarked for the military and NASA is shrinking.

  • Thanks, David. That makes sense.

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