The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will fly NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission is on the path for a critical series of tests this weekend.
NASA officials called on reporters on Wednesday (June 15) to provide an update ahead of those tests, which together include a launch simulation known as a “wet dress rehearsal.”
The Artemis 1 stack – the SLS and an Orion crew pod – was rolled out to the historic Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on June 6. scheduled to start on Saturday (June 18).
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Artemis 1 will be the first launch for the SLS and will send around an unmanned Orion the moon and back. This is Artemis 1’s second time on the trail for a wet dress rehearsal, a launch simulation that involves fueling the rocket and going through the procedures of an actual countdown, down to T-10 seconds.
NASA attempted the wet dress in early April and attempted to refuel the SLS three different times over the course of several days. But the Artemis 1 team decided to roll the Artemis stack back to KSC . vehicle assembly building (VAB) in late April, after a hydrogen leak and other problems prevented the rocket from refueling, ultimately violating any attempt.
Over the course of about a month, teams from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida were able to make necessary repairs to the SLS vehicle and associated ground systems, as well as get off to a flying start with some upgrades. that were originally planned for after the wet dress rehearsal.
“We fixed some things in the neighborhood where we used the… [hydrogen] leak,” Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said during Wednesday’s call.
Time in the VAB also gave technicians the opportunity to improve loading operations for SLS. Using “know-how from the” [space] shuttle days,” said Free, the VAB teams were able to update and automate certain procedures for filling the missile’s cryogenic fuel tanks.
Free praised Exploration Ground Systems teams, as well as other Artemis-focused NASA offices, for their excellent planning “to capture as much of [this year’s] launch periods that we can so we can get the vehicle up and running and understand how it works.” Free stressed that SLS is still a new vehicle, and while officials are hopeful of an Artemis launch attempt in late August, a successful wet dress rehearsal must precede launch.
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“This is the first step to get us back to the moon,” Free said. “This launch has very specific objectives. It’s a flight test. We want to test the heat shield on the moon’s return, we want to make sure we get the vehicle back and we want to make sure the systems in orbit are working, so when we go to [Artemis] 2, we are confident to attract crew [Orion]†
The Artemis 1 stack has been undergoing validation testing on Pad 39B over the past week, according to Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director at the Exploration Ground Systems Program at KSC, who was also in attendance Wednesday. Several days after Artemis 1’s return to the pad, teams worked to confirm services and connectivity between the SLS mobile launch pad and the command and control systems at NASA’s launch control center.
Last weekend, teams also performed booster maintenance, loading hypergolic fuel for the hydraulic booster unit, which controls the rocket’s thrust vector during flight. Blackwell-Thompson said the system is scheduled to be tested “within 30 seconds” of the upcoming wet dress rehearsal.
“Our path flow is essentially complete,” Blackwell-Thompson said, “except for our wet rehearsal preparations, which are now in full swing.” Further wet-clothing preparations include the completion of booster and engine inspections, lowering of the rocket’s engine service platform and, finally, completion of preparatory work on the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen systems, which preceded the complete shutdown of the launch vehicle.
“The next power-up will be as part of our wet dress rehearsal operations,” Blackwell-Thompson said. She indicated that a pre-test briefing for ground teams will take place on Friday (June 17), with the expectation that the wet dress will start the following day. The rehearsal itself is estimated to last just under 48 hours and will take the vehicle through various launch countdown simulations, hold and abort situations.
NASA officials hope a successful wet dress rehearsal will keep Artemis 1 on track for an available launch window in late August, but emphasized that they are focusing on completing the wet dress first. NASA, which accounts for the moon’s positioning, has a scheme of possible start windows for the Artemis 1 mission running until 2023.
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