(CNN) — NASA’s Artemis I lunar mega-rocket could face another attempt during its crucial ground test ahead of launch starting next week, NASA officials say.
Engineers test a 322-foot-tall (98-meter) stack of Artemis I rockets, including NASA’s Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, through its final stages on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This Thursday they met a hydrogen leak problem.
The crucial test, known as the wet dress rehearsal, simulates all stages of the launch without the rocket leaving the launch pad. This process includes loading the propellant, running a full countdown simulating the launch, resetting the countdown clock, and emptying the rocket’s magazines.
A hydrogen leak “prevented” the end of the test
The team was able to load supercold propellant into the SLS rocket’s core stage tanks, but “encountered a liquid hydrogen leak at the tail service mast umbilical which prevented the team from complete the test,” according to the agency.
“After fixing the problem the team decided to shut it down because when there is a hydrogen leak and you have ambient oxygen you just need an ignition source to shut down. the fire triangle. So it was a flammability hazard,” Mike said. Sarafin, director of the Artemis mission at NASA Headquarters, during a press conference on Friday.
Technicians collected data, emptied tanks and ensured the rocket remained safe and stable. Despite the leak, the team was able to complete a series of critical tests on the third attempt.
“The lunar mega rocket is doing well,” Sarafin said. “Any problems we encounter are procedural and lessons learned.”
Now the test team is still evaluating how to fix the leak. The repair started on Friday morning.
The team will “look at those specific areas that we think might be the problem, how we can get to them” and figure out a way forward, said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch manager for the Exploration Earth Systems program. of NASA, during a press conference. this Friday.
NASA’s Artemis I rocket has problems during its final test
Next try attempt
In the meantime, the team is preparing for the next potential opportunity of another wet dress rehearsal attempt on April 21, the first time the team is comfortable with, Sarafin said. The Artemis team is working closely with SpaceX as the Crew-4 launch is scheduled to take place at a nearby launch pad on April 23.
Sarafin did not reveal the exact plan to keep the race on track, given that it has only been 24 hours since the breakout, but said the team was considering “easily accessible” options.
“Hopefully there’s something here that’s pretty simple that needs to be tweaked or easy to fix, and that we can do it on the platform and in a fairly short timeframe,” Sarafin said. “And then there are a few more invasive options and we have to weigh those against a whole host of considerations, including the added stress on the vehicle.”
The longer the rocket stays on the launch pad, the more it will be subjected to wind and other stressors when exposed to the elements, not to mention the stress induced by repeated testing. This could determine when the stack re-enters the Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building.
Ambitious Mission Trials
When asked if it was possible for Artemis I to launch without completing certain aspects of a full test, the team said they would have to stick to an acceptable level of risk. But the ground and flight test programs aren’t complete, so the team hasn’t reached that consideration yet, Sarafin said.
The purpose of the wetsuit rehearsal is to learn about problems that can be corrected before being forced to abort a launch attempt, and that’s something the Apollo and shuttle programs have also encountered, said Blackwell-Thompson.
The first shuttle underwent five or six fuel tests before launch. Also, the shuttle had only one stage, whereas the SLS rocket has a core and an upper stage that must be fed with super cold propellant, which makes the process even more complex.
Sarafin said the team speaks from time to time with personnel who have worked on previous programs, comparing challenges in physics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, super cold temperatures, structural stresses and flammability hazards.
“History has shown that this has been a challenge for almost anyone who has done something of this magnitude,” Sarafin said.
Trial results will set a date for launch
The results of the dress rehearsal will determine when the uncrewed Artemis I will launch on a mission that will go beyond the Moon and back 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 person of color on the lunar surface in 2025.
“But I have no doubt that we will complete the test campaign and be ready to fly,” added Blackwell-Thompson.