According to NASA, a hot-fire test of the Space Launch System’s core stage has been set for mid-November. If developments stay on course, NASA says, the agency will have its inaugural launch late next year. In a conference held on October 13th, NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Boeing revealed that they are making good progress on testing the core stage, currently being done at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. To complete the tests, there will be a full-during firing of the core’s four engines.
John Shannon, SLS program manager, and Boeing vice president, said in the interview that they haven’t had any hitches so far and are ready to proceed to the next two steps. On October 5th, technicians had performed a practice countdown, the sixth out of eight scheduled tests.
One of the remaining tests is a wet dress rehearsal, which involves filling liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants to examine the fuel system and related systems. The other is the actual hot-fire test. According to Shannon, the wet dress rehearsal will be held on October 3rd, while the hot-fire test will be held on November 14th if no problems arise during the wet dress rehearsal.
After this test is completed, technicians will renovate the central stage, remove it from the test stand, and deliver it to the Kennedy space center. The aim is to ship the core stage to the space center by January 14th, in time to commence preparations for the Artemis 1 launch planned for November 2021. The core stage is among the final components required to be ready on the Artemis mission, as the rest of the parts of the SLS, the Orion Spacecraft included, already at the KSC. This is according to NASA SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt. This implies that any hitches in completing the tests will impact the planned timeline of events of the Artemis 1 launch.
Therefore, John says that it has been imperative for the team to keep within the schedule, adding a margin of 20-25 days for the shipping of the core stage from the proposed date, January 14th. So far, the two challenges that have threatened the schedule are the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused work for two months, and the active hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricanes have stopped work five times before, and the current program assumes that another storm would not shut down work, Shannon said.