ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 16 (UPI) — NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon must pass a crucial test Saturday, with the agency planning an eight-minute test-firing of the SLS moon rocket in Mississippi.
The test of the rocket’s 212-foot-high core stage was planned for as early as 4 p.m. EST — with a two-hour window — at the John C. Stennis Space Center. There was a delay, however, and NASA’s commentators on a live broadcast said a new time hadn’t been announced.
The test will be one of the loudest, most dramatic events at the facility since Apollo-era Saturn V rockets were tested there in the 1960s.
The test-firing may encounter delays or glitches, but NASA intends to learn from it, John Honeycutt, SLS program manager, said during a press conference Wednesday.
“It is a very large, very complex machine,” Honeycutt said. “I think it’s important that everybody understands this is a test program. It’s not just a verification, a demonstration program.”
Huge clouds of steam are expected as the test stand is cooled by more than 300,000 gallons of water per minute to prevent equipment from overheating. The eight-minute firing time equals how long those engines would fire to propel the rocket to 100 miles above the Earth.
The rocket and its engines are covered with 1,400 sensors that will measure pressure, temperature and vibration, among other data, NASA officials said.
The test will consume over 700,0000 gallons of supercooled propellant — liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen.
NASA intends to refurbish the core stage and ship it to Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida in February. There, the space agency plans to launch it on an uncrewed mission around the moon by November.
When the rocket is prepared for a lunar launch, it will have two large solid-rocket boosters to provide 8.8 million pounds of total thrust — 15 percent more power than the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the moon during the Apollo era.
But the test only includes four core-stage engines for 1.6 million pounds of thrust, which is slightly less than a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Hundreds of technicians and engineers are at the space center from NASA and Boeing, which built the rocket, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which built the engines.
The first Artemis mission is part of NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, but that goal seems unlikely to be met. It was a priority of President Donald Trump‘s administration, but has not received the congressional funding NASA requested.
The SLS program is overbudget at more than $ 9 billion, according to an official report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
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