NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket passed a critical refueling test on Wednesday, September 21, which could keep it on track for a scheduled liftoff on September 27.
Artemis 1 will send an unmanned Orion capsule into lunar orbit using a giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA attempted to launch the mission on September 3 but was thwarted by a liquid hydrogen propellant leak to a “quick disconnect” on the SLS core stage, an interface connecting the rocket to a fuel line from its mobile launch tower.
The Artemis 1 team replaced two seals around the quick disconnect on September 9, then scheduled a refueling test to see if the fix worked. This test took place Wednesday on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, and it brought good news for the mission.
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“All of the goals that we set for ourselves, we were able to accomplish today,” Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, of KSC’s Exploration Ground Systems program, said in brief remarks after the test. Wednesday, which took up most of the time. daytime.
This does not mean that everything went perfectly. For example, the leak at the quick disconnect reappeared when loading liquid hydrogen. But the team managed to fix it; they warmed up the quick disconnect, allowing it to “reinstall”, which reduced the leak rate to acceptable levels.
Artemis 1 personnel also noticed a different hydrogen leak during a “pre-pressurization test,” which was also part of Wednesday’s activities. This test “allowed engineers to calibrate the parameters used to condition the engines during the terminal countdown and validate timings before launch day to reduce schedule risk during the launch day countdown,” NASA officials said. explained in a blog post (opens in a new tab) after the end of the test.
This second leak was smaller than the previous one, and the Artemis 1 team was able to keep it under control, agency officials said.
NASA is currently considering September 27 as the launch target for Artemis 1, with a possible backup date of October 2. It’s too early to make a formal commitment to either date despite Wednesday’s success, Blackwell-Thompson said.
“I think we’re going to take the data and we’re going to see what it tells us,” she said. But, she added, “I am extremely encouraged by today’s test and the achievement of all of our goals.”
Other things have to go in the direction of Artemis 1 for the mission to also launch in the next couple of weeks. Weather has to cooperate, for example, and that’s never a certainty on Florida’s Space Coast. The mission must also obtain a waiver on the certification of its Flight Termination System (FTS), which is designed to destroy the SLS if it veers off course during launch.
The US space force, which oversees the Eastern Range for rocket launches, certified Artemis 1’s FTS for 25 days, and that time has now passed. The mission requested a waiver; if not granted, the massive rocket will have to be returned from Pad 39B to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building, the only place recertification can take place.
“Right now, we’re still having technical discussions with the Range,” Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for joint exploration systems development, said at a news conference on Monday. September 19, referring to the waiver. situation. “It’s been very productive and collaborative.”
Artemis 1 has already received such an FTS waiver, which extended the certification from 20 days to 25.
If all goes well with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will launch astronauts around the moon in 2024 and Artemis 3 will land near the lunar south pole a year or two later. The Artemis ultimately aims to establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon, and to use the skills and knowledge gained to get astronauts to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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