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Hotfire test for Green Run stops prematurely

NASA conducted a central stage hot-fire demonstration of the Space Launch System on January 16. Still, the 4 major engines of the stage stopped a little over a minute into the eight-minute evaluation. At 5:27 p.m. Eastern, the central stage activated its four RS-25 engines for what was meant to be a full-duration static-fire drill expected to run 485 seconds at B-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center of NASA. The research was the last achievement in the SLS core stage Green Run evaluation program that began a year ago. However, a bit more than a minute into the simulation, the engines shut down.

Controllers recorded an ‘MCF’ or the main component malfunction on one of four engines in a stream from control room broadcast on the NASA Television, around 45 seconds after ignition. Around 20 seconds later, the engines halted. It was not entirely clear the source of the early closure. Authorities with NASA and Boeing agencies, the SLS prime contractor, stated at a January 12 meeting. However, they wanted the static fire evaluation to go for at least 250 seconds to gather the required data. “If we have a slightly earlier breakdown for whatever reason, at around 250 seconds, we have all the engineering details we require to have great confidence in the vehicle,” stated John Shannon, Boeing’s vice president and the SLS program manager.

This involved throttling the engines from 109 percent of the rated thrust down to 95 percent and then back to 109 percent to mimic during takeoff, as well as to gimbal the engines, going through Max Q, or even maximum dynamic pressure. NASA and Boeing anticipated a successful trial to enable them in February to deliver the stage to Florida to be combined with their two 5-segment solid rocket boosters, the upper stage as well as the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 1 launch, the spacecraft’s uncrewed test flight. In the pre-test meeting, NASA said it was also planning to launch Artemis 1 by the end of the year.

The timing is not specified for a second hot-fire evaluation, if necessary. Had NASA agency scrubbed the evaluation, it would have required around a week to plan for another effort to refill propellants as well as other consumables used in the assessment, agency officials stated. “Today, not all went as per the script. However, we received several fantastic data,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator stated after the media briefing event. “I have total trust in the group to find out what the problem was, to find a way to fix it and get back after it.”

The SLS has already been in production for years, and its flight launch in the year 2017 was initially planned. Instead, delays have crippled it, and it is significantly over budget. NASA had already moved the rocket launch back to 2021 November and planned to make the deployment date even after a setback in their evaluation timeline in December 2020.

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