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NASA teams investigating pad hardware at Kennedy Space Center have found a potential culprit behind a leaking hydrogen line that wiped out the Artemis I Moon mission’s final attempt, paving the way for a refueling test this week.
Managers and engineers have already begun preparing for their arrival at Launch Control Center from Monday evening, a process that will run on what is essentially a mock countdown similar to launch day. At 3:40 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, September 21, teams will clear Pad 39B of the Space Launch System rocket and slowly begin what until now has been a finicky refueling process.
The need for Wednesday’s test is prompted by two previous launch attempts, both of which had to be canceled due to technical issues with the 322-foot rocket, which uses remnants of hardware from the Space Shuttle program. If all goes well, that could lead to a third launch attempt at 11:37 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, September 27.
In late August, it emerged that one of the four RS-25 main engines had failed to reach the correct pre-launch temperature, but NASA officials later determined that the poor reading was due to a faulty sensor. . During the second attempt earlier this month, a major leak of liquid hydrogen – one of SLS’s two propellants along with the liquid oxygen – forced a scrub after the tank could not be refilled .
Why Artemis flies on hydrogen:Hydrogen is NASA’s fuel of choice for Artemis I, but it’s also difficult to manage
Now teams believe that at least part of the second issue was caused by damage to a seal in a hydrogen quick disconnect, or QD. A NASA official said the “witness mark,” or indentation, was likely caused by foreign object debris in the system and, despite its small size of 0.01 inches, cannot be ruled out as a contributor. .
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re dealing with hydrogen, the smallest particle on the atomic map,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, said during a pre-launch briefing. Monday test. “So a footprint of this size provides the opportunity for pressurized gas to escape.”
Liquid hydrogen is a temperamental propellant. Not only does it need to be cooled to cooler temperatures than other options like kerosene or methane gas, but its small size means it can even be “absorbed” by metals and cause damage. It must also be seriously pressurized, easily exposing faults or leaks in the charging system.
Artemis I plan to move on
At 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, about 12 hours after crews cleared Pad 39B, NASA hopes to have completed a successful propellant loading test. But to get there, officials said some changes would be made during the countdown and refueling processes.
First, the hydrogen QD seals at pin 39B were replaced. This will allow for a “softer, smoother” charging process designed to pump cooled hydrogen at slower speeds and hopefully avoid thermal shock.
“We’re trying to minimize both pressure spikes and thermal spikes,” Jeremy Parsons, assistant ground systems manager at KSC, said Monday. “What we’re going to do is increase the pressure…so it’s going to be a slow, steady ramp.”
“With hydrogen in particular, you’re talking about very, very extreme temperatures…so really try to introduce some of those thermal differences slowly and reduce the thermal and pressure shocks,” he said.
While NASA isn’t sure the seal damage caused the level of leakage seen in the last attempt, testing so far and Wednesday’s near-complete countdown should provide the answers engineers need. .
For live coverage of the refueling test, visit floridatoday.com/space beginning at 7:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
After the supply test
If all goes well with the propellant loading, NASA officials will turn their attention to Space Force, which is responsible for public safety at Kennedy Space Center and the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Station.
While everything could be fine fuel-wise, the Artemis I rocket’s flight termination system designed to destroy the SLS in an emergency has passed its expiration date. The batteries that power the system must be certified by the Space Force every 25 days.
NASA hopes the FTS will be extended by waiver, but will wait until after Wednesday’s refueling test to move forward. The termination system is not necessary during the test.
If the refueling test goes well and the Space Force grants the waiver, this will clear the way for liftoff during a 70-minute window that opens at 11:37 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, September 27. A backup window is available at 2:52 a.m. pm Sunday, October 2.
“The launch criteria for each vehicle are used to develop mission rules that govern authorized flight behavior to ensure public safety, which is the main task of the
Eastern Range,” Space Launch Delta 45 said in a statement. “SLD 45 and Eastern Range have enjoyed a trusted partnership with NASA that dates back to the earliest days of manned spaceflight.”
For the latest information, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Contact Emre Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-242-3715. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.
Current launch windows for Artemis I:
Tuesday, September 27:
- Launch time: 11:37 a.m. EDT
- Launch window: 70 minutes
- Orion Splashdown: November 5
Sunday October 2:
- Launch time: 2:52 p.m. EDT
- Launch window: 110 minutes
- Orion Splashdown: November 11
Visit floridatoday.com/space three hours before each window opens for live video and real-time updates.
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