NASA set for big things in 2020

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tests of all four RS-25 engines for the Space Launch System are scheduled for July or August at Stennis Space Center.

Local residents may hear the rumble of the testing as far as Gulfport, said Chief of Test Operations Maury Vander. The test will be the biggest Vander has seen in his years at Stennis, and will be the largest at Stennis since the Apollo program.

NASA plans to use the SLS rocket to send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to the moon in 2024, as part of the Artemis program. An unmanned mission around the moon, Artemis I, is set for 2021.

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“We’re putting our fingerprints on going back to the moon,” said Vander.

Rich Gilbrech, Stennis Space Center Director, said this series of tests will be the first time in 49 years that a core stage is tested at Stennis.

During testing, the core stage will be attached to a test stand and all four engines will be tested for approximately eight minutes, offering the first chance to test the rocket as a unit, Vander said. During that test the rocket will not have enough power to lift off, but it could shift and damage the stand, said Barry Robinson, project manager for the B2 SLS core stage green run.

The B2 test stand that will be used to test the SLS rocket was originally built in the 1960s and used for testing until 2000. The structure was refurbished for the SLS testing, including new piping and new instrumentation for data acquisition, said Robinson.

The 212-foot SLS core stage is currently vertical on the stand.

Stennis also added an extra pump to its water reservoir for SLS testing, said Vander. While the engine is running, 330,000 gallons of water per minute will be used to cool it.

The engine testing should have a minimal impact on local pilots, and the FAA will be notified of tests, similar to when other tests are conducted, said Vander.

When the SLS core stage is complete, the core stage will be transported to Kennedy Space Center to prepare for launch.

President Trump’s 2021 budget request provides full funding for the Artemis and Orion projects, said NASA’s Chief Administrator Jim Bridenstine during his State of NASA speech Monday.

Trump’s 2021 budget request includes over $25 billion for NASA, which would be a 12 percent increase in funding. The proposed budget includes $3.4 billion for a human landing system and $1.5 billion for exploration technology in support of the Artemis mission. The funds for exploration technology could be used for things like developing nuclear propulsion to get to Mars or developing ways to transform waste stored in a spacecraft into a useful gas.