The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that in a few weeks, they would resume the operations for the construction of the Space Launch System (SLS) after assembly activities were stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a report on Spaceflight Now, NASA will conduct the first test-firing of the SLS core stage rocket at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in the upcoming weeks. Since the Saturn V lunar rocket, the SLS is the most powerful rocket. It will be the primary launch vehicle of NASA human-crewed space missions to the moon and possible to Mars.

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Test Flight Moved to November 2021

The current pandemic derailed the scheduled test flight of SLS and forced NASA officials to revise its timetable. Based on the original schedule, the inaugural SLS test flight was slated in March 2021. NASA officials said in the report that the flight of Artemis 1 would be moved to November 2021. Artemis 1 is the first unmanned test flight of SLS planned by NASA, which will combine for the first time the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and the SLS heavy-lift launch vehicle. The unmanned Orion spacecraft will orbit the moon and will serve as a demonstration of the space vehicle's capabilities and performance. The success of this mission will determine if the agency can commit to sending astronauts back to the moon on the next SLS/Orion flight by late 2022 or early 2023. The manned mission dubbed as Artemis 2 will conduct a flyby test on the moon before returning to Earth.

NASA told Spaceflight Now that the third SLS/Orion flight or Artemis 3 mission, which is eyed to be launched as early as 2024, will send astronauts to the moon. The crew will dock on a moon landing vehicle and attempt to land near the moon's south pole. If successful, it will be the first moon landing mission since Apollo 17 in 1972.

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So Many Delays

The SLS started its development in 2011. Over the years, it has faced increasing development costs and numerous delays. Right now, NASA is fast-tracking the program after the White House ordered the agency to speed up the return of U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon.

SLS was already behind schedule when it was further delayed as a result of the shutdown of the Stennis Space Center. The facility stopped its operations after the number of coronavirus cases rose in the surrounding area of the facility, and it recorded the first confirmed positive case among its workers.

Doug Loverro, the associate administrator for NASA's human exploration and operations mission directorate, said in the report that the facility shut down operations since Mar. 17.

NASA said that they were preparing to conduct a test-firing of the SLS core stage's four hydrogen-fueled RS-25 main engines as early August until the coronavirus pandemic strike and derailed the planned testing.

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Resumption of Operations

Loverro said that they are now working on the reopening plans after losing time due to the pandemic. He added that they are preparing a specific plan for each of the activities that they are doing in the facility.

NASA has approved the painting of a different test stand for the test-firing of individual RS-25 engines that are going to be used on the SLS core stage, Loverro said in the report.

Loverro said that in the next couple of weeks, they would resume work on the B-2 test stand in support of test-firing. He added that the process might take some time to ensure the protection of Boeing and NASA workers in the facility.

The SLS was initially scheduled to fly in 2017, but numerous delays have further moved its launch date. Boeing built the SLS core stage rocket while the Orion spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defense and Space.

Also Read: No Astronaut On First Orion-SLS Flight Around Moon: NASA

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