Monday (June 20) was a big day for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission.
The agency’s massive new moon rocket, The space launch system (SLS), a 50-hour launch simulation known as “wet rehearsal” concluded on Monday evening (June 20). After several failed attempts in April, members of the expedition team were able to do just that SLS full fuel for the first time On Monday, a series of critical pre-launch tests were concluded.
He was a great teacher for Artemis 1 Moon mission, but there were some obstacles along the way.
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Ground teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida spent the weekend reviewing procedures and checklists for the SLS, Orion capsule and Artemis 1 ground systems in the same way they would if they were preparing for an actual launch.
SLS is the backbone of NASA Artemis programa recent follow-up to Apollo that the space agency hopes will help establish a lasting human presence the moon. And with the launch of a new rocket comes a new lunar rocket. The SLS never flew, and the last rehearsal was supposed to be its last hitch. But whether or not Artemis 1 is actually ready to fly now or not is not yet clear.
Monday’s activities focused mainly on filling the rocket’s cryogenic fuel tanks. Two-phase SLS uses liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as hyper-propellant. Three attempts to refuel the missile during a previous wet dress attempt in April were cut short by operators encountered technical problemsincluding a hydrogen leak high in the Artemis 1 (MLP) stack portable launcher.
These issues have been addressed inside KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) over the past month, but on Monday controllers encountered another hydrogen leak while operating the wet dress at the launch pad. However, this new leak appeared at a “quick disconnect” – a point where the fuel cables connecting the SLS to the MLP were designed to separate during launch.
This new leak affected Monday’s proceedings. The technicians’ efforts to troubleshoot the problem were unsuccessful, and their workers set the count back three hours. But, with the SLS tank full, NASA officials made the decision to direct a software patch to enable them to continue the simulated countdown anyway.
The correction allowed the ground launch regulator to bypass automatic checks that would have detected the leak, but the SLS’s onboard flight systems were not able to undergo the same safe failover. As planned, the final count continued through the second T-33 mark, at which point the ground computers handed over flight control to the SLS systems.
The count finally stopped at T-29 seconds. NASA had hoped to run the watch all the way down to T-9 seconds, as originally planned, but considers the rehearsal largely a success regardless.
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“I would say we’re in the 90th percentile,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said during a call with reporters on Tuesday (June 21).
“The final count is a very dynamic time,” explained Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director at Exploration Ground Systems at KSC.
She added that there are “a lot of time-critical events that occur in a station’s account, which are examined both in the flight program and on the ground, and in the interaction between the two.”
Citing the quick separation leak as the only major hiccup during Monday’s tank operation, Blackwell Thompson and other NASA representatives on the call agreed that the wet dress was “too smooth.”
Now, agency officials have to determine if this wet dress is good enough. The leak prevented the count from reaching the second T-9 target to thwart the launch of the wet clothes, but that doesn’t mean NASA will have to rehearse again before deciding to launch the Artemis 1 mission, which will send the unmanned Orion on a nearly month-long journey around the moon. By Tuesday’s call, nothing had been decided.
“There are two things we didn’t get in the final count,” Blackwell Thompson said. “We’ll look at what those are. We’ll look at what that means for us, if there are ways to test them, then we’ll go back and make a recommendation.”
“We need to really sit down and… take a look at what we’ve accomplished, see what additional work might be required, and look at [quick disconnect]Sarafin added during the call on Tuesday, noting that since the long day for NASA operators on Monday, not much work has been done yet to analyze any of the test data.
NASA officials on the call were optimistic about the path ahead, although they weren’t committed to what’s coming for Artemis 1 in the near future. On the call, there was a shared confidence that a clearer path forward would emerge in a few days, after the team had a chance to examine the Artemis 1 stack and data from the wet dress.
“We’ll take all the data from yesterday and put it in the next time we load this car,” said Blackwell-Thompson. “I’m sure things will be just as smooth as yesterday’s primary stage.”
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