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NASA's massive Artemis lunar rocket test faces leakage and delays

NASA’s massive Artemis lunar rocket test faces leakage and delays

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The third final pre-launch test attempt of NASA’s Artemis I massive moon rocket began Thursday morning, but it ran into some difficulties.

The mission team attempted to operate the 322-foot (98 m) Artemis I rocket stack, including NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but encountered a number of delays.

According to a tweet from Jeremy Parsons, deputy director of the Earth Exploration Systems Program at Kennedy Space Center, “The team will not conduct terminal countdown activities today as planned, and will assess next steps after today’s operations.”

The agency said the missile remains stable and in a safe configuration.

The critical test, known as wet wear training, simulates each stage of a launch without the missile actually emerging from the launch pad. This includes loading the fuel, launching the complete launch simulator countdown, resetting the countdown, and emptying the rocket’s fuel tanks.

The process was previously modified in response to an issue encountered over the weekend during preparations for this attempt.

“Any new rocket that goes into a new program like this one goes through these updates and understands how the rocket works,” Tom Whitmaier, associate deputy director of Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, said at a press conference Monday. “And that’s the kind of thing we’re going through right now.”

The problem that engineers identified over the weekend is a malfunctioning helium check valve. Helium is used to purge the engine before supercooled fuel is charged – training wet to wet – during refueling. Check valves allow gas or liquid to flow in one direction to prevent reverse flow. In this case, the non-working portion is about 3 inches (7.6 cm) long and prevents helium from flowing back from the rocket.

The valve is difficult to reach when the missile is resting on the launch pad, but it can be replaced or repaired after the test is completed. However, the modified version of the wet rehearsal is still necessary to ensure the safety of the missile’s flight equipment.

The modified test would loosen the fuse and upper stage of the rocket with minimal thrust. Previously, the team had planned to fully operate the middle and upper stages of the rocket, but a valve problem prevented this stage from occurring during this test. Evaluations will be done to see if more testing is needed.

The rocket and spacecraft were operational on Wednesday evening, and the team held a meeting at 6 a.m. ET Thursday to assess the weather and review the state of operations. The team extended the wait, which was expected to last from one and a half hours to two hours, after encountering “the problem of a power outage in an off-site resource of nitrogen gas used inside the rocket prior to loading the fuel,” according to an update from NASA officials. This issue is similar to the one encountered during a previous attempt on April 4th.

Nitrogen gas is used to purge oxygen from the missile before refueling, a safety measure. The team was able to restore the nitrogen gas supply and begin refueling after 8 a.m. ET.

Refueling begins with cooling the liquid oxygen lines of the rocket’s primary stage. Then, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fill the primary stage through those lines, refilling and replenishing them as some of the supercooled fuel boils off, according to the agency. The team will also cool the fuel lines for the rocket’s upper stage, but it won’t release any propellants due to the current valve problem.

The Artemis rocket’s core stage can hold 198,000 gallons (900,126 liters) of liquid oxygen that is cooled to minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 182 degrees Celsius). A total of 537,000 gallons of propellant will be loaded into the rocket when the primary stage is fully refueled.

Experienced team Multiple stops and starts While charging liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The final problem was a leak “identified in the umbilical tail service mast”, attached to the center of the missile stage and located at the base of the mobile launcher on which the missile is anchored.

“Hydrogen is very dangerous, cold and a notorious small molecule for leaking. All of these systems have been shut down, checked and tested to the greatest extent possible prior to training with the wetsuit,” according to a tweet from Jeremy Parsons, deputy director of the exploration area systems program at the Kennedy Space Center.

“In the unique operating conditions of the missile, we are prepared and know that leaks are a realistic possibility. We have amazing systems to detect dangerous gases and leaks that keep the missile safe and alert us to conditions outside normal standards.

The team will continue cooling hydrogen lines connected to the rocket’s upper stage to collect more data, and there are no plans to load liquid hydrogen or liquid oxygen into the rocket’s upper deck tanks.

The liquid hydrogen tank in the central stage was approximately 5% full and the liquid oxygen tank was 49% full. The propellant will be drained, and the team will examine the leak and come up with a plan moving forward.

Once this test is complete, the Artemis I rocket will be returned to the Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building.

Officials said previous attempts to train to wear the suit have already provided valuable information, even as the team deals with many issues.

“We completed a lot of the testing requirements that we needed to get out of the wetsuit business,” Whitmer said. “We have a few more to deal with on Thursday. The giant moon rocket is in a very good condition and we are handling it very carefully. »

Although the exact problems identified during the test attempts were not foreseen, they are part of the process when testing a new missile.

“I can say that these probably won’t be the last challenges we’ll face,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager at NASA Headquarters, told the conference. “But I am confident that we have the right team in place and the ability to come around and overcome these issues is something we can be proud of.”

The results of the rehearsal will determine when unmanned Artemis I begins a mission that will cross the moon and return to Earth. This mission will launch NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and land the first woman and first people of color on the moon by 2025.

Sarafin said the current launch opportunities include June 6 to June 16, June 29 to July 17, and July 26 to August 9.

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