NASA engineers finally The massive Space Launch System rocket was refueled with fuel Monday night, completing most of the final critical test before its maiden flight. After reviewing the trove of data they have gathered from the tests, the team will decide on a launch date for the world’s most powerful rocket this summer as part of the first major mission of the Artemis lunar program.
After the SLS team rolled the fully stacked giant rocket (with the Orion crew capsule on top) to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the countdown began for a practice session called the “wet rehearsal test.” While previous attempts in April had failed due to problems such as valve malfunctions, hydrogen leaks and launch tower fans, the team has resolved those issues and fully loaded the rocket’s propellant tanks. They went through almost the entire countdown sequence, stopping at T-29 seconds at 7:37pm ET. That may be enough to complete the preparations for SLS and Orion launch day.
“It’s been a long day for the team, but it’s been a very successful day that accomplishes most of what we didn’t accomplish in our previous wet gowns,” said Artemis release director Charlie Blackwell Thompson, NASA this morning press conference.
While the team did achieve most of their goals, they didn’t quite follow the planned script. The launch controller encountered a number of technical issues, including a new leak of liquid hydrogen — supercooled to a frigid -423 degrees Fahrenheit — in the line connecting the rocket’s core stage. If it’s launch day, this leak usually triggers a countdown on the launch computer. After failing to block the traffic, the team decided to trick the computer into not seeing the leak warning so they could continue practicing the countdown. They went further than ever, but they didn’t quite hit the planned T-9.3 second mark, and if they continued, the core-level RS-25 engines would kick in.
Now, the team will review the data they’ve collected, and in a few days, they’ll decide whether to run a fifth full countdown test, or whether they have enough information to finally move forward with the pivotal Artemis 1 launch later this summer.
The launch of the SLS rocket will be just part of a series of activities to return to the moon that began this summer. As early as this Saturday, NASA plans to launch Capstone, a small cubesat that will follow an orbit designed for the Lunar Gateway space station, which is expected to be the centerpiece of astronauts traveling between Earth and the moon. transfer station.
The next viable launch window for Artemis 1 opens between July 26 and August 10, with another launch window in about two weeks. The unmanned mission will orbit the moon while deploying small spacecraft for secondary missions and technology demonstrations.
Four other Artemis missions are planned, and many more potential missions are in the works. Following Artemis 1, the second mission will involve a crewed flyby of the moon, and if the current schedule remains the same, the long-awaited third mission, 50 years after the Apollo program, will finally bring the United States NASA astronauts bring back the lunar surface. Subsequent Artemis missions will establish lunar portals.
In a press conference today, team members said they have confidence in the rocket’s systems as they have reached their most important milestone. “The team showed great discipline, grit and perseverance,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager. “Artemis 1 paved the way for the moon landing and firmly established Orion and SLS as our transportation system for the crew and cargo we planned for Artemis, and yesterday put us on the road to Artemis 1.”