NASA’s new mega-lunar rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is one step closer to reaching stars on Wednesday (April 6th), completing what is known as wet dress rehearsalin which the agency loaded the sides of the car with cryogenic fuel and simulated a countdown in preparation for takeoff.
While NASA broadcasts the test video live on its website, many key details of the event were kept secret, allegedly for reasons related to national security. But do most of these details really have to be secret? Here’s what we know about the agency’s decision to be so secretive, and why not everyone buys their stated rationale.
What is a wet dress rehearsal?
Pending coverage of it a giant new launch vehicle, whose height, when on an Orion crew car, is 322 feet (98 meters), which is above the Statue of Liberty, NASA needs to test all the various components of the SLS. During a rehearsal without a crew, the agency loads the sides of the rocket with supercooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen – which combined create a powerful thrust to send the spacecraft – and practices various scenarios in preparation for takeoff.
“The test lasts about two days and mimics the countdown to our launch,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said during a briefing on Tuesday, March 29th. Blackwell-Thompson is the director of the NASA Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman. and the first colored person month.
Engineers monitor the temperature and pressure in the tanks during rehearsals, constantly taking data to help them once the rocket is ready for its debut flight. They also practice going through several different countdown sequences, once up to T-minus 1 minute and 30 seconds, second up to 33 seconds before launch and finally up to T-minus 10 seconds before launch.
This allows launch controllers to simulate a variety of situations in which the launch may have to be canceled – or “cleared” – due to technical or weather-related problems, officials said during a March 29 briefing.
Why were the key facts kept secret?
While NASA shared on social media certain stages of the dress rehearsal, the agency was banned from discussing every detail due to concerns about the International Arms Trade Act (ITAR), Tom Whitmeier, the agency’s assistant administrator for developing common intelligence systems, told reporters. during a press briefing.
ITAR is a regulatory regime that restricts the exchange of information on weapons and technology in ways that could be detrimental to US national security or foreign policy, according to the US State Department. (opens in a new tab).
“We are really very sensitive to cryogenic launch vehicles of this size and capabilities,” Whitmeier told reporters. “They are very similar to the ballistic capabilities that other countries are very interested in.”
In particular, hostile foreign countries might want to get as much information as possible about things like “time, sequence, flow rate, temperature,” he added. “Anything that would help them or other people that could be used for such things,” meaning the creation of giant and potentially deadly missiles.
The complex interactions involved in the simultaneous loading of the SLS’s main and upper stage missiles have been of particular concern, Whitmeyer said. “How long it takes to perform certain tasks is important information in other countries,” he added. “So we have to be careful when we transmit data, especially for the first time.”
What do people say about concern?
This is a typical example. That day, NASA unveiled detailed technical information about its programs. And the US has somehow not lost its leadership in technology! https://t.co/FqCko8uNlCMarch 29, 2022
Some experts did not like the need to keep everything a secret. “Sigh. ITAR has been an excuse for so many nonsense over the years.” wrote on Twitter astronomer Jonathan McDowell (opens in a new tab) from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which closely monitors space launches.
McDowell shared (opens in a new tab) A detailed schedule given to reporters in 1992 in anticipation of the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, which shows that NASA’s current concern about national security is quite recent.
Reporter Michael Baylor, who works for NASASpaceflight.com, which focuses on space-related news, has expressed even harsher words. “Sorry, but that’s an excuse entirely BS. It’s the industry standard to broadcast the main countdown cycle. Virtually all American launch vendors do it, and NASA did it during Shuttle. If you’re worried about ITAR, you’ll make this callout on another cycle.” He wrote on Twitter (opens in a new tab).
Cryogenic fuel is not commonly used in ballistic missile systems, Baylor added (opens in a new tab). This is probably due to the fact that maintaining fuel at supercooled temperatures for a long period of time is difficult and expensive, which means that many countries have abandoned missiles that use such fuel, according to a website supported by the Federation of American Scientists. (opens in a new tab).
Now that the dress rehearsal is over, it is possible that additional data will be summarized during a post-test media teleconference on April 5, and NASA should be more detailed during the upcoming launch of the Artemis 1 mission, expected this summer, Whitmeyer said. “We are doing our best to provide as much information as possible.”
Originally published on Live Science.