The fourth and most recent complete test attempt at NASA’s space launch system went reasonably well, and despite some persistent problems and uncertainties, the agency is sending the rocket back to the hangar to prepare for the final preparations before your first flight. This inaugural launch will represent Artemis 1, the first mission of NASA’s Artemis lunar program.
In a press release today, NASA, to my surprise, said it has just tested SLS after reviewing data from the recent launch test. It seemed likely that another full trial would be required due to an unresolved hydrogen leak linked to a faulty quick connection, which subsequently prevented ground crews from practicing the fully scheduled launch countdown on Monday. The goal was to reach T-10 seconds, but the launch controllers decided to abandon the test at T-29 seconds for safety reasons.
“NASA plans to return SLS and Orion to the platform for launch in late August,” the statement said. “NASA will set a specific target release date after replacing the hardware associated with the leak.”
Despite the hydrogen leak and the incomplete countdown, Monday’s wet dress looked like it was going well. Ground crews finally managed to fully load SLS with thrusters. More than 2,857,985 l of cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen were supplied to the two stages of the rocket, which the teams had failed to achieve during the first three attempts. In addition, it appears that all the problems experienced during the first three wet dress rehearsals have been resolved. The Orion spacecraft, currently sitting on top of the rocket, also worked well during the test.
Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s exploration systems manager, said Tuesday during a teleconference with the media, “We think we had a really successful trial,” adding that there is “relative risk” of running a fifth. wet suit, with the 98.15 m high (98 meter rocket) fully exposed on the launch pad.
During Tuesday’s call with reporters, NASA officials said 90% of all test targets were met, without specifying any details about the missing 10%. That said, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director of Artemis, did admit certain unknowns that have to do with the final stages of the terminal count. On a positive note, the team managed to perform “several critical operations” deemed necessary for the launch, including “changing control from the ground launch sequencer to the automated launch sequencer controlled by the rocket flight software, an important step that the team wanted to achieve, ”according to a NASA statement.
During Tuesday’s teleconference, Mike Sarafin, manager of NASA’s Artemis mission, said teams will need to consider “the risks of not performing another test.” Now, it looks like the space agency is happy with the level of risk and is ready to continue with Artemis 1, in which the rocket will launch and attempt to send an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a trip to the Moon and back without landing.
After some last-minute test targets yet to be completed, SLS will be transported back to the vehicle assembly building for final closures and other preparations for launch. The problem with hydrogen leakage from the purge line to the umbilical pole of the tail service at the bottom of the rocket will also have to be solved.
For months, NASA officials have been considering a launch in late August. Suddenly, this seems like a likely goal. Otherwise, launch windows are available in each of the last five months of the calendar year. For Artemis 1, NASA requires launch windows in which the Moon and Earth are properly aligned, among other variables. A successful Artemis 1 mission would set the stage for Artemis 2, in which a manned Orion will attempt the same journey (currently scheduled for May 2024).
As Hambleton noted, NASA will provide more information soon and will meet with reporters tomorrow. I’m curious to know about these “remaining targets” that need to be addressed before the rocket returns to the VAB, and whether NASA is ready to commit to an actual launch date. We will continue to inform you of this developing story.
More information: NASA’s Artemis Moon Landing Program: Releases, Timeline and More.
Editor’s Note: Release dates for this article are based in the US, but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.