NASA is expected to announce that the maiden launch of the agency’s heavy-lift SLS rocket is expected to slip to late 2021. This latest delay is believed to largely be the result of “Green Run” testing being halted in the wake of the global pandemic.
During a May 14 address to NASA’s Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, the agency’s deputy associate administrator, Tom Whitmeyer explained that the expected launch date of Artemis 1 had slipped to late 2021.
“We are feeling fairly comfortable that we will be having the Artemis 1 mission towards the end of next year,” said Whitmeyer.
Although Whitmeyer declined to share any specifics, he did reveal that a more detailed announcement from the agency would follow as early as next week.
Further delays to the maiden launch of NASA’s SLS rocket had been expected prior to the effects of the global pandemic. However, the closure of the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to all but those required to perform mission-essential activities has greatly contributed to the delays.
Stennis entered a “Stage 4” lockdown on March 20. This prevented personnel not involved in “mission essential activities related to the safety and security of the center” from entering the site and the continuation of key “Green Run” testing.
The Green Run is a series of tests that represent the “first top-to-bottom integrated test of all flight core stage systems.” The testing is being conducted on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis and will culminate in an 8-minute full-duration hot fire of the core stage with its four R2-25 engines.
According to a May 14 NASA press release, the agency reopened Stennis and resumed testing activities earlier this week. Crews will have to first reestablish, or “wake up” the test stand’s systems. This will include “restoring facility power and controls, as well as ensuring pressurized gas systems are at proper levels for SLS operators to proceed with testing activities.”