NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar rocket passed a critical refueling test on Wednesday (September 21), potentially keeping it on track for its scheduled launch on September 27.
Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit using the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA attempted to launch the mission on September 3 but was thwarted by a leak of liquid hydrogen fuel in a “quick disconnect” on the SLS main stage, the interface connecting the rocket to the fuel line from its mobile launch tower.
The Artemis 1 team replaced two seals around the quick release on September 9 and then scheduled a fuel test to see if the fix worked. The test took place on Wednesday at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and brought good news for the mission.
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“All the goals we set for ourselves, we were able to achieve today,” Artemis Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson of the KSC Ground Systems Program said in a brief speech after Wednesday’s testing that took most of the time. day.
We cannot say that everything went perfectly. For example, a leak in a quick coupler resurfaced when loaded with liquid hydrogen. But the team managed to troubleshoot; they heated the quick coupler, allowing it to “reset”, which reduced the leak rate to an acceptable level.
Artemis 1 personnel also noticed another hydrogen leak during a “prepressurization test” that was also part of Wednesday’s activity. This test “allowed engineers to calibrate the settings used to condition the engines during the terminal count and check the timing to launch day to reduce scheduling risk during the launch day countdown,” NASA officials explained in a blog post. (will open in a new tab) after the test is completed.
According to the agency, this second leak was smaller than the previous one, and the Artemis 1 team was able to keep it under control.
NASA is currently looking at September 27 as the launch target for Artemis 1, with a possible fallback date of October 2. It’s too early to make a formal commitment on any of those dates, despite Wednesday’s success, Blackwell-Thompson said.
“I think we will take the data and see what it tells us,” she said. But, she added, “I’m extremely excited about today’s test and achieving all of our goals.”
In order for the mission to launch in the next two weeks, Artemis 1 needs to do a few more things. The weather has to work together, for example, and that’s never certain on Florida’s space coast. The mission must also receive a waiver of certification for 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 Rocket Launch Range, has certified the FTS Artemis 1 for 25 days, and that deadline has expired. The mission applied for a waiver; if this is not allowed, the huge rocket will have to be rolled from Pad 39B back to the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building, the only place where recertification can occur.
“Right now, we’re still in the middle of technical discussions with Range,” Tom Whitmeyer, NASA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Generic Exploration Systems Development, said during a press conference on Monday (September 19), referring to the rejection. situation. “It was very productive and collaborative.”
The Artemis 1 has already received one such waiver from the FTS, which extended its certification from 20 to 25 days.
If all goes well with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will launch astronauts around the Moon in 2024, and Artemis 3 will stop at the Moon’s south pole a year or two later. Ultimately, the Artemis program aims to establish a long-term human presence on and around the Moon, and use the skills and knowledge gained from doing so to get astronauts to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).