NASA is making preparations on multiple levels for the historic return of humans to the moon in the coming years. Engineers intend to conduct a critical test on the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage rocket that will help carry astronauts to the moon. Engineers will load cryogenic propellants into the core stage and expose the tank and internal plumbing to the extreme conditions of propellants that are hundreds of degrees below zero.
The fueling test is critical and is a required precursor to the test firing of the rocket that could happen as soon as November. In the image above, the core stage of the rocket is covered in orange insulating foam. It’s currently standing on the B-2 test stand at the NASA Stennis Space Center.
The rocket has been there since January after being carried on a barge from the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Work on the rocket was suspended repeatedly during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Workers also faced bad weather from several hurricanes that ravaged the area.
Workers have been forced to stop working again because of Hurricane Delta. Operations on the rocket are expected to resume quickly with little impact expected from the storm at Stennis. The fueling test will load 733,000 gallons of extremely cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in the core stage. That step is expected to happen later this month, and during the test, sensors will measure how the stage and plumbing inside respond to the cryogenic propellants.
If everything goes well, the rocket will be loaded again in November, and the quartet up RS-25 main engines will run for more than eight minutes, which is the duration of the burn during an actual launch. The SLS Core Stage has the same diameter as a space shuttle fuel tank and weighs 188,000 pounds empty. When fully fueled, it will weigh around 2.3 million pounds.