NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission is back on the launch pad.
Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida began rolling the Artemis 1 pile — one Space launch system (SLS) topped by an Orion crew capsule – outside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at around 12:10 am EDT (0410 GMT) on Monday morning (June 6), once again carrying the mega lunar rocket -mile (6.4 kilometers) walk to historic Launch Complex 39B.
The overnight trip took around 10 hours, with Artemis 1 arriving at the block just before 10:00 am EDT (1400 GMT). Now the vehicle stack and ground systems await another attempt to fuel the rocket and simulate a launch countdown for a critical series of tests known as the wet suit trial, which is due to begin on June 19.
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Artemis 1 will be the highly anticipated maiden voyage of the SLS, whose development has been marred by numerous delays and cost overruns. (Orion has flown once before, on a trip to Earth orbit in 2014.)
The mission will fly an unmanned Orion around the moon and back in preparation for the future Artemis missions, which aim to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972. So NASA is taking every precaution to ensure that the rocket’s debut is successful, including the option to scrub the first wet test run in April to allow time for additional maintenance after three failed attempts to load the SLS with cryogenic fuel.
The first launch of Artemis 1 from VAB to Pad 39B took place on March 17th, followed by a wet trial that began on April 1st. Unable to complete the full range of tests, NASA made the decision to roll out the vehicle and its Mobile Launch Pad (MLP) back to VAB for repairs on April 25th. Technicians addressed the root causes of the initial cleaning of wet clothing and also used time in the VAB to expedite implementation of other scheduled updates.
During the first wet suit attempt, ground crews had problems loading fuel into the SLS’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which is responsible for Orion’s orbital insertion and translunar injection burns. Loose flange screws contributed to a hydrogen leak in the umbilical lines connecting the MLP to the ICPS. NASA investigation revealed that the seals on these screws deteriorated to some degree as they aged and implemented torque checks to tighten the affected hardware.
Other fixes were also aimed at resolving the SLS’ cryogenic loading issues. A helium check valve was replaced on the ICPS and modifications were made to the umbilical boots responsible for the quick disconnection of the MLP arms of the SLS during takeoff.
With the Artemis 1 stack absent from the Pad 39B for the past five weeks, updates to the launch complex were able to move ahead ahead of schedule. Most notably, the NASA contractor providing the infrastructure that handles and delivers nitrogen gas to the launch pad was able to nearly double the facility’s capacity by adding a second method to produce the gas.
Enormous amounts of nitrogen gas are used during wet suit testing as well as the launch itself. On the one hand, the gas passes through all the fuel tanks and hoses on the rocket and ground infrastructure to help clean the vessel’s cavities before and after fueling. The new upgrades will allow the systems to reach their full design capability and facilitate up to 32-hour supply tests, NASA officials said.
The next wet trial for Artemis 1 is scheduled to start on June 19 and last for around 48 hours. The countdown simulation will see the rocket through actual pre-flight and fueling procedures up to the moment just before the engine ignites.
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KSC ground teams will coordinate with mission control staff at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as the Space Force Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral, Florida to conduct loading more than 700,000 gallons (2.65 million liters) of cryogenic fuel between the rocket and the launch pad infrastructure.
A series of countdown trials, holds and aborts, as well as different simulated weather scenarios, will test the ground crews’ abilities to load and unload thrusters in a variety of different launch conditions. Several days after a successful wet dress, teams will take the SLS and Orion back to the VAB to analyze test data, determine the vehicle’s flight readiness, and hopefully begin preparing the rocket for an actual launch. .
NASA officials refrained from choosing a firm date for the Artemis 1 mission, citing the need to review the wet suit test result, but expressed optimism for a window in late August, which could be possible if all goes well. the next few weeks. If the SLS hits any additional obstacles, NASA has preemptively published a list of future launch opportunities that run until 2023.
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