May 23, 2022


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NASA is doing a detailed rehearsal of a new megarocket outfit this weekend

NASA is doing a detailed rehearsal of a new megarocket outfit this weekend

Over the next three days, NASA is conducting an elaborate rehearsal with its massive new rocket, the Space Launch System — practicing all the major steps the agency will have to perform when the craft is first launched. It’s a major milestone for the missile’s development and one of the last major tests it must undergo before the vehicle is cleared for flight sometime this summer.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, is the agency’s new flagship rocket, designed to transport people and cargo into deep space. It is supposed to play a leading role in NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s initiative to send the first woman and first people of color to the Moon by mid-2020. Capable of lifting nearly 60,000 pounds of cargo to beyond the Moon, the SLS is designed to launch a new crew capsule. A NASA satellite called Orion, which will carry future astronauts bound for the surface of the Moon.

But before that can all happen, the SLS just needs to get off the ground. Her first flight, called Artemis I, is also a rehearsal. The Orion rocket will be launched. – Without any crew in it. On a four- to six-week mission around the moonA demonstration of the vehicle’s capabilities. but before who – which It could happen, NASA wants you to go through all the steps leading up to the launch, which is known as a wet clothes rehearsal. The term “wet” refers to the fact that NASA flight controllers plan to go through the entire countdown to launch, even filling the rocket’s tanks with super-cold liquid fuel, just as they would on launch day. “It’s closely following the countdown to launch,” said Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Artemis launch manager at NASA. During a press conference about the rehearsal. “There are two slight differences, but they are really slight.” Of course, the main difference is that the countdown will not actually reach T-minus zero, so there will be no actual launch.

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It was a test that was about to happen A decade in the making. NASA and its primary contractor Boeing have been working on the SLS since early 2010, and there have been a lot of delays and cost overruns along the way. SLS . missile It was finally launched from NASA’s famous vehicle assembly building On March 17, fully stacked, it slowly made its way to the primary launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch pad, codenamed LC-39B, was used for the Apollo launches as well as multiple launches of the Space Shuttle.

NASA’s Mobile Launchpad at KSC
Photo: NASA

Now it will be the primary home of the SLS, and NASA wants to make sure the infrastructure around the SLS can work together for the first time. This includes all ground support systems – such as the huge mobile launcher that is used to stabilize the missile during launch, as well as the various tanks and structures used to transfer the cooled fuel to the missile. “There are thousands of components on the launcher that need to perform,” said Tom Whitemaier, NASA’s Associate Deputy Administrator for Joint Exploration Systems Development, during the press conference.

Besides testing the technology, NASA is also testing the capabilities of a large army of flight controllers. Since this is the first time everyone has worked with this device and undergoes these procedures, there are bound to be some kinks that need to be resolved.

Things will start this afternoon at 5 PM ET, when the launch team reaches their stations. Shortly thereafter, flight controllers will power both the SLS and Orion. The excitement didn’t really start, however, until Sunday morning, April 3, when the team would decide if they were ready to go ahead with refueling the car. If they “go” for it, they would start filling the SLS tanks with cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen and continue to replenish the tanks throughout the day as the propellant inevitably boils away.

After refueling, flight controllers will count down to a predetermined “launch” time, eventually reaching the final count. In just six minutes before T-minus zero, the support teams will convert Orion into internal energy, followed by the missile itself. The countdown would continue until the T-minus 33 seconds, at which point the teams manually cut off the launch. They will then undergo a recycle, when they try to go through the last part of the countdown again, to test the team’s abilities to attempt a second launch in the event of a delay on launch day. Once again, they’ll go through the final count and eventually reach T-minus 10 before cutting things out again.

how to follow

For those who want to continue testing, NASA plans to provide detailed updates on Artemis . BlogBeside Send messages on Twitter. Live view of the SLS missile Stream on one of NASA’s YouTube channels.

However, in a somewhat controversial move, NASA will not provide live commentary or live audio of the exercise countdown episode. The agency cited restrictions on publishing information about how the missiles work, which fall under the jurisdiction of ITAR, or the International Trade in Arms Regulations. Enforced by the US State Department, ITAR is used to control the export of certain technologies that could be used to make weapons. Normally, if a technology is on what is known as the US Munitions List, you cannot export that technology to a foreign country or national, or you need to obtain approval to do so.

The missiles are included in the US munitions list, as many of the same technologies used to make missiles are also used to create intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. And while NASA does not plan to actually export the SLS rocket to another country, ITAR also organizes the release of what’s known as “technical data” — essentially the blueprints and other knowledge used to build and operate the rockets.

Regarding the SLS, NASA says it is concerned about releasing valuable information about the countdown sequence, as enemies may use this information to create their own weapons. “Typically what they look for is the timing and sequencing of data, flow rates, temperatures, and the time it takes to do certain tasks,” Whitmire said. “This is considered important information by other countries. And so we have to be very careful when sharing data, especially for the first time.”

Charlie Blackwell Thompson in the firing room at KSC
Photo: NASA

It’s a strange situation for several reasons. For example, the SLS runs on liquid fuel, while most ICBMs these days run on solid fuel. Also, commercial companies such as SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance (which use liquid fuels in their spacecraft) have announced their countdown to the past decade without conflicting with ITAR. Within the ITAR, the regulations state that there are exceptions to the publication of technical data if it is already in the public domain.

“The presence of liquid rocket fuel can be found in any number of patent filings and publications,” Jack Shelton, an attorney specializing in ITAR at Aegis Trade Law, writes. the edge in a letter. “But there are certainly a lot of other bits of information about SLS that are not in the public domain. A lot of these are technology secrets that the US government might not want China to get their hands on.”

NASA notes that ITAR’s restrictions have become more stringent since the agency used to launch the space shuttle. It’s also completely It’s possible that NASA has received new guidance from the State Department not to release this type of technical data to the public. There may be a definition of technical data, but it is still very vague and always subject to interpretation, which can certainly evolve based on current events and emerging technologies. The agency can get into trouble if it releases information that the State Department believes falls within its scope Itar.

NASA also blames a lack of public information on the fact that the SLS is so new, but the agency plans to expand its coverage of the eventual Artemis I launch by launching air-to-ground communications. “We’ll actually talk to the people involved with export control and share with them what we think is acceptable data, and then they’ll verify it’s acceptable data, and hopefully by the time we get to launch, I’ll have a really good understanding,” Whitmer said.

This weekend, hardcore fans can catch up on updates online. It’s also a rehearsal for the NASA Social Team, which will definitely be working overtime when Artemis I launches.