Enlarge /. The rocket core stage of the Space Launch System is installed in the upper left of the B-2 test bench in NASA's Stennis Space Center.
In a rather unusual update on the "Artemis" blog published by NASA on Wednesday, the new head of the space agency for manned spaceflight explained the progress made in important hardware programs.
"Even in my short working time, NASA is reviewing important milestones and is marching quickly towards Artemis I," wrote Kathy Lueders, who switched to the job after heading the commercial crew program. "This mission, the first unscrewed flight test of our powerful Space Orunch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, is only a little over a year away from launch."
Next, Lueders discussed preparations for a "Green Run" test of the core phase of the SLS missile this fall, possibly by the end of October. This test will take place at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. During that time, engineers from NASA and prime contractor Boeing will fire the four main engines of the clamped rocket and fire them for eight minutes to simulate a launch and ascent into space.
After discussing this and other details, Lueders dropped it casually: "NASA has also adjusted the development costs for the SLS and Exploration Ground Systems programs through Artemis I and set new cost commitments." The new development cost for the SLS missile is $ 9.1 billion, and the budget for the first ground systems to support the mission is now $ 2.4 billion.
That said, that's a 33 percent increase for the missile since 2017 when "re-planning" the estimated cost of developing the missile, including a single test flight, would be $ 7.17 billion. (This was detailed in a report by the US General Accounting Office published nearly a year ago.) This figure represents only direct development costs. NASA has received more than $ 20 billion from Congress since 2020 for SLS development and related activities.
At the time of "re-planning" in 2017, NASA set a date "December 2019 – June 2020" for the first test launch of the SLS rocket. This was a delay from previous plans to bring it to market by the end of 2017.
In her update, Lueders said she was "confident" that a launch date for the rocket could be reached in November 2021. However, she made a few reservations. For one thing, she said, "It's too early to predict the full effects of COVID-19." She also said that such a launch date is based on "a successful Green Run Hot Fire Test".
This latter limitation can be quite large. With this test, NASA will for the first time advance the integrated core stage – consisting of four space shuttle main engines, large liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel tanks, and all of the piping required to control the flow of chilled liquids. for the first time. While the agency has been researching independent components, making sure they work together is a big deal.
Engineers who are new to testing large, complex systems say there is little chance of a perfect test or major structural failure. However, the highest probability is that NASA and Boeing will discover some issues that will take at least a few months to resolve before the core phase is considered ready to go.