NASA has decided to roll its Artemis 1 lunar rocket off the launch pad and back to a processing facility to fix some problems revealed by a recent “wet dress trial” test.
The dress rehearsal, a series of key tests designed to prove that the massive Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft and their associated ground infrastructure are ready for operation, began on April 1 at Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
Things were supposed to wrap up about 48 hours later, with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants being loaded into the SLS and several simulated launch countdowns running. However, members of the Artemis 1 team ran into several issues that delayed those steps and eventually pulled out to accommodate the private Ax-1 astronaut mission, which launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 from Pad 39A from KSC.
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The wet dress got underway again on April 12, in a modified format: After discovering a faulty valve at the bottom of the mobile launch that supports the stack of Artemis 1, the team decided to refuel only the core stage of the SLS, not also in the upper stage.
Technicians began fueling the core stage on April 14 as planned, but stopped after noticing liquid hydrogen leaking from one of the “umbilical” lines running from the mobile launch tower to the SLS.
After finishing that fueling effort, the third of the wet dress campaign following failed attempts on April 3 and 4, members of the Artemis 1 team took some time to analyze their data and their options. They initially left the door open to resume wet dress next week, with another tank attempt perhaps on Thursday (April 21).
But that is no longer on the table. The team has decided to roll the Artemis 1 stack off Platform 39B and return to KSC’s cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building to replace the faulty valve and fix the leaky umbilical.
“During that time, the agency will also review schedules and options for demonstrating propellant loading operations prior to launch,” NASA officials wrote in an update on Saturday (April 16).
The decision, or at least the timing of it, was driven to some degree by external factors, NASA officials said, citing necessary updates “at a third-party provider of nitrogen gas used for the test.”
Soon we will learn more about the decision and the plans to follow; NASA will hold a press conference on Artemis 1 on Monday (April 18) at 3 pm EDT (1700 GMT). You can follow it live on Space.com.
Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long trip around the moon. NASA hopes to launch the mission this summer, but won’t set an official target date until the wet dress is over and teams have analyzed the resulting data.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.