If all goes according to plan, engineers in southern Mississippi later this month will load cryogenic propellants into the core stage of a rocket NASA says will launch astronauts back to the moon, exposing its tankage and internal plumbing to extreme operating conditions hundreds of degrees below zero for the first time. The fueling test — a major milestone in its own right — is a precursor to a high-stakes eight-minute test-firing of the Space Launch System’s four shuttle-era main engines planned as soon as November.
NASA officials released a nearly five-year, $28 billion plan Monday to return astronauts to the surface of the moon before the end of 2024, but the agency’s administrator said the “aggressive” timeline set by the Trump administration last year hinges on Congress approving $3.2 billion in the next few months to kick-start development of new human-rated lunar landers.
One of the final pieces for the first test flight of NASA’s huge Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket recently arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, joining other elements already at the Florida spaceport awaiting shipment of the SLS core stage once it completes testing at a NASA facility in Mississippi.
The Orion spacecraft slated to fly around the moon on an unpiloted mission next year has arrived back at the Kennedy Space Center following an environmental test campaign in Ohio, ready for a series of final checkouts before officials pause launch preparations this summer to await readiness of NASA’s Space Launch System.
NASA announced Thursday that work on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion crew capsule at facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi is being halted due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic, a stoppage that could force further delays on the already behind-schedule and over-budget programs. Meanwhile, NASA officials are making plans to continue working on the agency’s next Mars rover to keep it on schedule for launch later this year, even if the virus forces further closures.
The powerful Space Launch System rocket being built for NASA’s Artemis moon program by Boeing, using solid-propellant boosters from Northrop Grumman and main engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne, will have cost more than $18 billion by the time it blasts off on its maiden flight in 2021, NASA’s Office of Inspector General reported Tuesday.
The Trump administration is requesting $25.2 billion for NASA in fiscal 2021, a 12 percent increase that includes $3.3 billion to kickstart development of a human-rated lander for the Artemis moon program. Nearly half of the budget request, $12.3 billion, is devoted to new and ongoing projects focused on the return to the moon and eventual flights to Mars.