NASA plans to make another attempt during a crucial refueling test of its Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket on June 19.
SLS will debut on the next Artemis 1 mission, which will send an unmanned Orion capsule on a trip around the moon. But before Artemis 1 can lift off, its SLS and Orion must complete a crucial series of pre-launch tests known as a “wetsuit rehearsal.”
During a call with reporters on Friday afternoon (May 27), NASA officials announced that they planned to begin deploying the Artemis 1 from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to launch Pad 39B at around midnight EDT (0400 GMT) on June 6.
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This won’t be Artemis 1’s first deployment. NASA’s first run at an Artemis 1 wetsuit began April 1, about two weeks after the moon rocket originally deployed from the VAB. After a similar schedule for vehicle crates on the pad this time around, NASA officials said they plan to begin the approximately 48-hour wetsuit on June 19.
Several technical problems occurred at the platform during last month’s wetsuit, including a stuck valve and a hydrogen leak in one of the “umbilical” lines connecting the SLS to its mobile launch tower. Team Artemis 1 tried to feed the SLS three times but ended up rubbing the wet dress, eventually roll the Artemis 1 stack in the VAB for repair on April 25.
NASA officials outlined several of those fixes during Friday’s call. For the leaky umbilical, for example, it was found that the flange bolts had inadvertently loosened, compromising their seal.
“These seals age over time,” explained John Blevins, chief engineer of the SLS program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
“We had tightened them up before, and we hadn’t done … torque checks over the period of time that we’ve seen now that these joints are getting old,” he added. Blevins expressed confidence in the repair work, saying members of the Artemis 1 team have taken steps to prevent leaks.
A helium check valve and associated hardware was replaced on the upper stage of the SLS, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). Changes have also been made to the ICPS umbilical boots, which are involved in the quick disconnect between SLS and the mobile launch tower during takeoff. Additional leak detectors have also been added to the system components responsible for handling liquid hydrogen, NASA officials said.
Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for KSC’s Ground Exploration Systems Program, highlighted some of the Artemis 1 work that NASA has started ahead of schedule thanks to the SLS rollback to the VAB. For example, teams partially installed payloads inside the Orion capsule and replaced the remaining ground system plates with flight plates to cover the vehicle’s instrumentation. This adjustment, Lanham said, will provide the vehicle with better protection against Florida’s hot, humid and often rainy weather, especially during the summer months.
While the SLS was undergoing maintenance in the VAB, the Pad 39B also received some necessary upgrades. Part of the SLS wet dress rehearsal requires refueling and emptying the rocket of propellant to simulate the procedures leading up to an actual launch. Nitrogen gas is used at the pad to purge rocket cavities and dry umbilicals, and Pad 39B has been able to receive a capacity boost in recent weeks.
“Because it’s such a big rocket, we need a proportional amount of product…There are a lot of different features on the vehicle that require nitrogen gas,” said Tom Whitmeyer, associate administrator NASA Deputy for Joint Exploration Systems, during Friday’s call.
The increased capacity will allow SLS to undergo more extensive checks on the launch pad, including a 32-hour test of the nitrogen system to simulate the rocket’s consumption during launch, as well as ground and fuel systems. avionics.
“The vehicle itself is a very simple vehicle, but every time you go into loading operations with cryogenics, you have to take it one step at a time,” Whitmeyer said.
If the wet dress is okay this time around, the Artemis 1 team can start preparing for a real lift-off. NASA officials have said they aim to launch Artemis 1 in August, although they won’t set an official target date until the wet dress is complete and all the data has been analyzed. .
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