Boeing (BA) fired the engines on its Space Launch System rocket Thursday for the full duration of an important test, while the expected appointment of a new NASA chief could ease doubts about the future of the deep-space vehicle.
The so-called hot fire was meant to test whether the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for launch, by firing its engines while anchored on a vertical platform. NASA officials immediately deemed Thursday’s hot fire a success.
Boeing, which has suffered major setbacks in its other space and commercial aviation programs in recent years, said in a statement that the SLS “demonstrated successful core stage operation and will be used to help certify the stage for flight.”
After loading over 700,000 gallons of supercold propellant into the core stage’s tanks, all four Aerojet Rocketdyne (AJRD) RS-25 engines fired for just over eight minutes while also gimbaling for about a minute. NASA needed four minutes to get most of the data for the test.
The first hot-fire test for the Space Launch System in January ran for just over one minute, well short of the scheduled time of eight minutes, and NASA obtained far less data than hoped.
NASA attributed the early shutdown to “test parameters that were intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage.”
The hot fire is the last of eight “Green Run” tests. The Space Launch System can now go to the Kennedy Space Center, possibly next month, for integration with Lockheed Martin‘s (LMT) Orion spacecraft.
A test flight of the full rocket and payload could even happen late this year.
The Space Launch System, designed to be the most powerful rocket ever, is key to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon and embark on other deep-space missions, including to Mars and beyond.
Space Launch System Loses Mission, Big Backer
Boeing stock rose 0.6% late after closing down 2.9% at 256.06 on the stock market today, back in buy range after clearing a 244.18 entry, according to MarketSmith chart analysis. Aerojet shares dipped 0.4%, while Lockheed, which is buying Aerojet, rallied 2.1%.
Prospects for the Space Launch System got a boost Thursday, as the Verge reported that former astronaut and U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, would be named as NASA administrator.
He’s seen as a strong proponent of the SLS rocket, which has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
The first SLS rocket was originally supposed to be ready to launch for the Artemis I mission 2016. Under the Trump Administration’s ambitious timeline, the Artemis III mission moved up to 2024.
But Congress hasn’t approved enough funding to accomplish a moon landing by then. And the Biden administration hasn’t committed to the 2024 goal.
NASA has already spent $20 billion on the program, and cost estimates last year put them 30% higher. The space agency recently confirmed a report by Ars Technica that an internal review of the rocket’s affordability is under way.
Meanwhile, the chronic delays and fears of more to come have cost the Space Launch System an important mission.
Instead of the SLS, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is now only considering using commercial heavy-lift rockets to launch the Europa Clipper mission in 2024. That could include rockets from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture.
And the SLS also lost perhaps its most important backer on Capitol Hill, as Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., announced last month that he won’t run for re-election in 2022.
Shelby’s state is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which manages the SLS program. He has been a skeptic of commercial space launches and has pushed for the SLS to launch the Artemis missions even after previous NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine once suggested that the first uncrewed mission could be done on a commercial rocket.
Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for space news and more.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
This Article firstly Publish on www.investors.com