NASA’s SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft still targeting 2021 maiden flight

Hot fire test Saturday needed to keep Moon mission on schedule

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The mega-rocket even more powerful than the Saturn V is coming together at the Kennedy Space Center and also NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

On the Gulf Coast Saturday, the Space Launch System is scheduled for a major engine test. The rocket is key to NASA’s Artemis program with plans to return humans to the lunar surface by 2024.

The two-hour test window opens at 5 p.m. Saturday. Live coverage will begin at 4:20 p.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

If successful, the core stage booster would then be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC where its solid rocket boosters were being stacked Thursday.

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“Everybody in the office is excited about where we’re at right now,” NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik said Thursday.

An operations manager also said the SLS is still expected to fly its first uncrewed mission around the Moon before the end of the year. The mission is called Artemis I.

“Right now, we have a plan laid out that gets us there and we’re going to be pressing hard to make it,” Cliff Lanham of NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program said.

And while the boosters are being stacked, a few miles away at KSC, NASA said the SLS capsule, Orion, will be moved to another facility on Saturday, and it could be integrated to the top of the rocket as early as June, followed by the rocket and capsule rolling out to the pad in the fall.

“And then we have a month or two of work to do, final testing before we head back out for launch,” Lanham said.

And by the year 2024, NASA still plans on SLS and Orion sending the first man and next woman to the Moon.

“And if we can launch Artemis I, to be the first human-rated vehicle to leave low Earth orbit since Apollo, it’s going to be a good year,” Bresnik said.

Artemis I would become the first launch from KSC launch complex 39B since 2009.

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