The repairs have been addressed, so now is the time to add some tension to ensure that NASA’s Artemis I mission is a success.
NASA says it repaired the fuel lines running from the Mobile Launchpad to the Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-B last week. Now, it will run through a full thrust payload, targeting 7:15 a.m. ET Wednesday as part of a test that could give space agency A shot of its launch early September 27 to send the Orion spacecraft on a multi-week orbit mission.
Artemis I is an unmanned flight that will push the limits of the capsule, send it far beyond the moon and return it to Earth faster than any other human-classified spacecraft to ensure it will be safe for astronauts on future Artemis missions.
However, getting the SLS and Orion off Earth has proven difficult, with a variety of problems arising during its two previous launch attempts. This was caused by a large refrigerant leak liquid hydrogen on one of the supply lines.
Similar but smaller leaks caused NASA headaches both on the first launch attempts and during wet-clothes rehearsals last spring.
Mission managers said there were signs of debris in the fuel line that could damage the seals and resultant leaks. Part of that could be from pressure and thermal changes during the filling processes.
“We’re going to do what we call the kindest, gentlest kind of loadout,” said Tom Whitemaier of NASA, associate deputy director of Joint Exploration Systems Development. “We’re going to lower that pressure a little bit at the beginning of the cooling procedure, right up to the transition to a quick fill, and we think that’s really going to help with pressure and temperature shifts in the system.”
Wednesday’s test looks to fully load the core stage and temporary cryogenic propulsion stage with more than 730,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygenThe plan looks to adjust the speed at which refrigerated fuels are sent to appliances.
Wednesday’s test will also allow NASA to run another countdown process called a start-up test, in which some liquid hydrogen is used to cool the four RS-25 engines at the base of the primary stage to minus 423 degrees. Fahrenheit so that they are not depressurized when cooled fuel begins to flow through them at launch.
NASA never made it to this part of the countdown during the last attempt due to a hydrogen leak, but on its first launch attempt in August, a malfunctioning sensor said one of the four engines was just about 40 degrees shy of the target temperature.
Wednesday’s test, which will run until about 3 p.m., has the potential to give NASA administrators satisfaction that everything is going as it should.
With that, NASA is also seeking a waiver of a battery check for the self-destruct mechanism, or recall of the Flight Termination System, or FTS, from the US Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 45, which controls the eastern range, the area over which rockets fly during launch. .
The current agreement between NASA and the eastern group Artemis I gave a 25-day window to fly before the FTS batteries had to be rechecked. This could only be done in the Vehicle Assembly Building, which would require retracting a massive 5.75-million-pound set of missiles, launchers, and spacecraft at 322 feet high.
The FTS was last checked before August 16 when Artemis I moved to the launch pad from the VAB.
“There was a constant dialogue, and very good dialogue,” said John Blevins, chief engineer of the Space Launch System program. “They have a public safety responsibility and so they asked for additional information. We are providing that additional information… We will let them do what they do.”
If the tests go well and the eastern range agrees to waive, NASA can stay on the launch pad and seize two opportunities in the next two weeks.
The first is Tuesday, September 27, a 70-minute window that opens at 11:37 a.m. that will fly in on a nearly 40-day mission and land on Earth on November 5. The second is Sunday, October 2. , a 109-minute window that opens at 2:52 p.m., flies on a nearly 41-day mission and lands on November 11.
“All the dates we’ve been talking about are for planning purposes. We have to plan ahead,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis’ mission manager. “We should have a mark that we’ve asked the team to work for, for a whole host of reasons, and those dates you’ve given are all on hold – and awaiting a decision from Range – that has been said, we are internally moving forward.”
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