The NASA team is preparing to roll the 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) Artemis I rocket stack, including the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 26.
The crucial test, known as a wet dress rehearsal, simulates each stage of the launch without the rocket leaving the launch pad. This process includes loading propellant, going through a full countdown that simulates launch, resetting the countdown clock, and draining the rocket tanks.
Engineers encountered a hydrogen leak problem during the third attempt of this test on April 14.
Rolling the rocket stack inward will allow them to assess the leak, located in the umbilical of the rocket’s tail service mast, and replace a faulty helium check valve in the upper stage that also created a problem.
The updates are “required at a third-party supplier of nitrogen gas used for testing,” providing this window of opportunity to make some corrections before the giant rocket returns to the launch pad for further testing, according to the agency.
Preparing an entirely new rocket and spacecraft for launch is “a really complicated thing,” said Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters, during a news conference Monday.
“We’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said. “I think we discovered a few more pieces on Thursday, but we have a few more pieces in front of us.”
The team is currently evaluating what the next steps will be after fixing the rocket, but Whitmeyer said “we’ll absolutely go back out and do a dress rehearsal” to demonstrate the super-cold propellant load and go through the launch countdown. “It’s just a question of what’s the right time and the right way to do it.”
The team has several options once the rocket returns inside the building. Engineers can make a quick choice, which is to take care of the minimum number of things right away, and then see how soon they can make another try at the wet dress rehearsal.
Another option is to take more time to work on the rocket while it’s in the building and bring it closer to deployment in the configurations actually needed for flight.
The third option considers doing a wet dress rehearsal and launch all in one campaign after launching to the launch pad, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch manager in NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program, said at the conference. press.
“Our team has been working very hard, and I think they’re doing a great job on all of these initial operations, and I’m constantly impressed and proud of the problem-solving skills I see demonstrated within the team,” she said.
This latest decision “challenges” the earliest release window, originally scheduled for June 6-June 16, but later release windows of June 29-July 12 and July 26-Aug 9 remain. possible.
“We’ve had to overcome a number of challenges, and those challenges require perseverance,” Mike Sarafin, manager of the Artemis mission at NASA Headquarters, said during the conference. “And that perseverance, in turn, is building the character within the team and the character necessary to have optimism and know when we’re going to be ready to fly.”
The goal of the wet dress rehearsal is to learn about problems that can be corrected before being forced to abort a launch attempt, and it’s something the Apollo and shuttle programs also faced, Blackwell-Thompson said.
The results of the wet dress rehearsal will determine when the uncrewed Artemis I will launch on a mission that goes beyond the moon and back to Earth. This mission will kick off NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and bring the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface by 2025.