After years of delays and billions of dollars over budget, we may have to wait longer to see the Space Launch System (or SLS) rocket take flight.
While NASA hopes to launch the first flight of the SLS rocket by the end of the year, the likelihood of that happening is slim.
The agency has a lot more preparation required for this debut flight and is nearly 2 months behind schedule for testing and integration due to “weather” and “first-time operations”, according to NASA’s Kathryn Hambleton.
The SLS rocket stacking was completed in Florida earlier this summer, which included the Orion “mass simulator”. Though NASA hoped to complete the vibration testing at that time, “modal” testing is currently being conducted. The tests will provide a better understanding of which vibrations are caused by the stack versus external forces which will be used in the flight software.
And there are so many more time-consuming procedures to go, including removing the mass simulator, stacking the Orion spacecraft with its launch abort system which takes weeks, more assembly, more testing, and a “wet dress rehearsal” which will hopefully take place in November or December of this year.
If the dress rehearsal and all other procedures go well, there is a possibility that the SLS rocket could launch next spring, but if there are any backups it would likely push the launch to next summer.
Lack of incentive for on-time delivery may be another reason for delays. In 2010, legislation created partly by Bill Nelson and passed by congress imposed the SLS on NASA and originally intended to have the rocket ready for use by 2016. Nelson disagreed with looking into private companies building rockets for NASA claiming that the space agency and its traditional contractors could do the job better than anyone and that “if we can’t do a rocket for $11.5 billion, we ought to close up shop.”
Years later and after spending more than 20 billion dollars, NASA still hasn’t announced the expected date for the wet dress rehearsal date or launch. Hambleton stated that “as always, we will fly only when we are ready.”
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