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.
Relativity Space, a small launch startup aiming to fly its orbital rocket from Cape Canaveral for the first time next year, announced Wednesday it has signed a contract with Iridium for up to six launches of the company’s spare communications satellites. Relativity also announced it plans to develop a second launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to allow for missions to polar orbits.
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.