A critical test-firing of the Space Launch System’s core stage engines cut off about a minute into a planned eight-minute burn Saturday on a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The rocket’s four engines ignited at 5:27 p.m. EST (2227 GMT) for a test that was to pave the way for the core stage’s shipment to the Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations.
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.