NASA mulls next steps after faulty Space Launch System test
- Houston, we have a problem… The first key test for NASA’s Space Launch System didn’t go as planned over the weekend and the space agency is now debating what to do. SLS, about 10 years in development and billions of dollars over budget, is crucial to plans to send people to the surface of the Moon by 2024 (Artemis program) and for NASA’s deep space ambitions and beyond.
- Many publicly traded companies are involved in the SLS program, including a booster built by Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC), RS-25 engines made by Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE:AJRD) and core/upper stages and avionics manufactured by Boeing (NYSE:BA). SLS also intends to carry astronauts inside an Orion capsule built by Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT).
- What happened? Engines were supposed to remain ignited for eight minutes, but instead shut down after slightly more than a minute, and well short of the four minutes program officials had said would be the minimum time needed to stay on track for a first launch in November. Just before the rocket shut down, a mission controller said there was a major component failure with the fourth engine, but NASA is still looking into the root cause of the issue.
- Quote: “We don’t know what we don’t know,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a presser. “It’s not everything we hoped it would be.”
- Outlook: The problem could be relatively easy to solve if it’s a component issue (meaning a possible SLS flight by the end of the year), but if it is a bigger structural issue, it could be a potentially major setback to NASA’s deep space goals.