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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday began a critical two-day-long test of its giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket complete with a simulated countdown, as the agency gears up to return humans to the Moon, according to AFP report.

NASA is staging an elaborate dress rehearsal with its massive new rocket, the Space Launch System and it is a major milestone for the rocket’s development and one of the last major tests it must undergo before the vehicle can be cleared to fly sometime this summer, according to The Verge.

Known as the "wet dress rehearsal," it is the final major test before the Artemis-1 mission this summer, an uncrewed lunar flight that will eventually be followed by boots on the ground, likely no sooner than 2026. It is called a "wet" dress rehearsal because supercooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be loaded into SLS from ground systems, just as they would be in a real launch.

"The countdown is now underway," NASA said in its Artemis blog at 5:00 pm Eastern Time (2100 GMT), confirming members of the launch control team had been issued their "call to stations."

Data from the test, which ends Sunday mid-afternoon, will be used to finalize a launch date for Artemis 1. NASA had said May could be the first window, but later now seems likely.

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket -- expected to be the most powerful in history at the time it is operational -- was rolled out to Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida around two weeks ago.

Teams are now filling up a sound suppression system with water that is used to dampen acoustic energy during lift-off. They will continue to practice every operation that would be carried out in a real launch.

By tomorrow morning, with the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule fixed atop both powered on, they will load up 700,000 gallons (2.6 million liters) of propellant.

They won't actually ignite the rocket's RS-25 engines, which were tested previously. Instead they will halt the countdown about 10 seconds before liftoff, in order to simulate a "scrub," when launch is aborted due to technical or weather related issues.

The fuel will be drained, and a few days later SLS and Orion will be rolled back to the vehicle assembly building to carry out checks on how everything went.

Test milestones will be posted on NASA's blog for the Artemis mission, and the public might be able to glimpse the rocket venting vapor on the launch pad on April 3, during tanking operations, on the agency's YouTube channel.

On Monday, agency officials plan to hold a press conference to give further information. NASA won't however let the public listen to live internal audio.

(With inputs from agencies)

 

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