NASA Mulls A New Deep-Space Rocket Test Despite Technical Concerns

Repeating Saturday’s aborted ground test could unduly stress booster prior to liftoff

NASA is wrestling with the decision whether to redo ground checks of a mammoth deep-space rocket’s main engines, which prematurely shut off during an aborted test Saturday.

NASA officials on Tuesday said preliminary findings indicated that sensors flagged problems with two out of four main engines of the Space Launch System booster built by Boeing Co. But in a briefing for reporters, they clarified earlier updates by revealing that the testing setback resulted from the combination of a malfunctioning sensor and how Saturday’s test was set up rather than design or production defects with the engines themselves.

Outgoing National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief Jim Bridenstine and some top aides emphasized that on top of probable schedule delays, extra testing could stress parts of the 212-foot rocket to the point that performing its mission could be problematic.

The agency didn’t give a timeline for a decision, though some of its internal safety guidelines suggest that typically a new test would be necessary to demonstrate reliability of the booster’s primary propulsion system.

The looming trade-offs over testing present engineering and political challenges for NASA as well as Boeing, even as new appointees in a Biden administration are expected to reassess the status of the troubled multibillion-dollar SLS program. More

By Andy Pasztor

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