Disappointing test returns NASA’s Megarocket to the garage

SLS at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SLS at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
picture: NASA

NASA, after three failed attempts to complete the rehearsal of its Space Launch System, decided to return its giant rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building. The move likely means further delays for the unmanned Artemis 1 mission to the moon.

Space is tough – we get it – but the recently dismissed SLS wet clothes rehearsal was downright sad.

In fact, NASA couldn’t even complete a modified launch rehearsal last Thursday, as ground crews were trying to load the rocket’s primary stage with propellant. There was a small hydrogen leak on the tail of the umbilical mast Blame In order to stop testing, NASA said it will restart testing of the modified launch as early as this week. The space agency quickly changed its plans, and on Saturday announced that the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket would return For the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center Repairs.

The SLS wetsuit launch rehearsal is taking place ahead of the upcoming Artemis 1 mission, in which NASA will attempt to launch an unmanned Orion capsule to the moon and back without a lunar landing. Standing on Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the rocket was to be fully loaded with fuel and a countdown paused before the four RS-25 engines ignited, but none of those things happened. It’s not a brilliant result, because the SLS is a critical component of the Artemis program, which seeks to land American astronauts on the Moon later this decade.

In a press release, NASA said the decision to return the SLS and the Orion capsule to VAB was “due to required upgrades at an off-site resource of gaseous nitrogen used for testing.” The nature of these upgrades and the time needed to implement them were not disclosed, but the space agency said it would “take the opportunity” to repair the missile directly in the hangar.

Specifically, NASA needs to replace a file Faulty helium check valve That prevented ground crews from loading supercooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into the rocket’s second stage during the second wetsuit attempt. The valve, which is only 3 inches long, is only accessible when the missile is inside the VAB. NASA will also use this time to fix a leaky navel, review test results, go over its schedule, and determine the remaining list of SLS test requirements.

Space agency officials confirmed this There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the missile and that they simply have to deal with small or “annoying” problems. That may well be the case, but the sheer scale of the problems and the constantly adaptive way in which the propellant has been loaded, don’t seem to be an issue.

During a teleconference held earlier today, It’s a “delicate dance to resurrect a rocket,” said Tom Whitmer, associate deputy director of NASA’s Joint Exploration Systems Development. “Really complicated business.” So he said, “wWe’re definitely going for rehearsal,” including moving to the final countdown before the SLS launches, according to Whitmeyer.

The SLS wet dress began on April 1, but a slew of issues prevented the test from running through to completion. These issues included faulty vent fans on the portable actuator, incorrect manual vent valve, extremely cold and frost temperatures while loading the fuel, and the above issue with the third party supplier of gaseous nitrogen. a Thunder Storm On April 2 and Axiom space mission to the International Space Station, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on April 8, also contributed to the delay.

It will take ground crews until Tuesday, April 26 to prepare the SLS for the 4-mile (6.4 km) crawl trip back to VAB, Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Artemis launch director, said, which will take about 12 hours.

Blackwell Thompson described three possible scenarios going forward. The first is the “Quick Turn Option”, where the team will take up the matter Few issues and then Roll the rocket to the launch pad to get ready for the next wet dress. The second option may involve more work within the VAB, and during this time The missile will be brought closer to the final launch configurationwhile the third option would be an all-wet dress and release in one dress Launch campaign (eg, the missile will not be returned to the VAB for final configurations). She added that it would be too early to speculate which of these is the main candidate.

As for the Artemis 1 mission, the next three launch windows are from June 1 to 16, June 29 to July 17, and July 26 to August 9. At the press conference, Whitmire said that “the early June window is challenging at this point.”

This article has been updated to include comments and information provided during NASA’s April 18 press conference.

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