NASA managers gave the “go” to begin filling the Space Launch System’s core stage with more than 700,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen Saturday at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, aiming for the first firing of all four of the huge rocket’s main engines later in the day. NASA TV’s live coverage of the test-firing begins at 4:20 p.m. EST (2120 GMT), around 40 minutes prior to the start of the two-hour test window.
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.
After considering canceling a planned full-duration test-firing of the Space Launch System’s core stage in Mississippi ahead of the heavy-lift rocket’s first flight, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced this week that the agency will press ahead with the test next year, citing safety and reliability benefits for future astronauts riding on the launcher on missions to the moon.