After several failed tests, NASA’s giant SLS rocket returns to the garage

The US space agency has decided to shorten the testing phase of its latest SLS launch vehicle model and bring it back to its garage. There the rocket must be repaired.

Tests of the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s XXL rocket designed to enable the Artemis missions to bring astronauts back to the moon, are not going quite as planned. The tests, which had already been postponed once due to technical problems, took place on April 12 and 14, 2022. NASA teams had to test a crucial step: the arrival of liquid fuel in the rocket, a step called “ Wet dress rehearsal “.

But new problems prevented NASA from making the move, and the US space agency announced on April 17 that it had made the decision to bring the SLS back into its building. A long operation that could delay the mission.

The SLS carrier must return for repairs // Source: Nasa

problems with testing

Many improvements need to be made off the launch base and NASA will take this opportunity to bring SLS and back [la capsule] Orion in the vehicle assembly hall [son bâtiment d’assemblage] ” the American space agency announced on April 17 on its website. NASA also said it would replace a faulty valve in the SLS second stage. It will also repair a leak in the refueling boxes at the base of the rocket, and NASA has stated that this will ” check the plan » LPG exposure test operation.

The decision was made in the last three operations wet dress rehearsal were hampered by technical problems. The magazine Ars-Technica explains that the complications took place at the level of the mobile launch tower, the ground equipment responsible for providing fuel and the rocket itself. ” In the last tests, which took place on April 14, NASA managed to charge the liquid oxygen tank to 49% and the liquid hydrogen tank to 5%. ‘ says the newspaper.

The decision to bring the SLS back to its assembly shop is not trivial. The SLS is huge indeed: the rocket is 98 meters tall, excluding the Orion capsule, and weighs almost over 2,500 tons. Moving such a behemoth is therefore challenging and can take time: Ars Technica estimates that it would take a week to prepare the SLS and roll it into the assembly shop. Once arrived, the rocket could stay” in the garage » the whole month of May.

After several failed tests, NASA's giant SLS rocket returns to the garage
The SLS rocket is used for Artemis missions // Source: Nasa

The SLS is used for the Artemis mission

So far, however, NASA has not provided further details on the impact these repairs would have on the mission’s launch schedule. The SLS is scheduled to complete its maiden flight in 2022. The latter has not been officially postponed for the time being, but if NASA’s technical problems continue, the SLS may not launch in May as planned.

The SLS flight takes place as part of the Artemis mission: This mission is intended to enable the astronauts to return to the moon – the launch vehicle is therefore of outstanding importance. However, the return of humans to Earth’s natural satellite is not planned immediately: the first mission of the SLS will be an unmanned flight.

The SLS needs to lift off and orbit the moon with an Orion capsule on top to ensure everything goes smoothly. The next mission, Artémis 2, is scheduled for 2024 and will have to follow the same trajectory, but this time with a crew on board. Artemis 3, expected in 2025, will need to land astronauts on the moon.

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