NASA Giant Moon-bound Rocket Is Grounded for Repairs

NASA Giant Moon-bound Rocket – The mission that was uncrewed, the primary launch in the Artemis program, was hit with the loss of the leak of liquid hydrogen.

The official launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, a robust and sophisticated rocket designed for carrying astronauts on the moon, and further isn’t getting off the ground until later. On Saturday NASA’s engineers from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida have decided to wait for additional repairs and troubleshooting due to a hydrogen leak that was discovered during launch preparations in the launchpad.

It’s not clear yet what the repair will involve and if they will be able to be completed on the pad or have to bring this rocket to it’s Vehicle Assembly Building. Whatever the case, it will hinder the start for launch of the Artemis lunar mission until the next launch window begins in September, or until the next one starts in late October.

This is a significant delay for the spacecraft that isn’t yet manned that is slated to launch on a lunar orbit prior to coming back to Earth. Since it’s a step of sending astronauts onto space for only the second time in the history of the Apollo program, there’s a lot of stake. “We’re going to make sure it’s right before we put four humans up on top of it,” stated NASA director Bill Nelson on the space agency’s livestream of the scrub of launch.

Nelson added that in the business of space these challenges are part of the territory, and especially with the new spacecraft. “This can be a part of our program in space. Prepare yourself for scrubs.”

The issue today was caused by an issue with an assembly line that is used to load Liquid Hydrogen fuel in the core stage SLS rocket, which could pose an hazard of flammability.

The team had experienced one leak that was smaller during the launch attempt on Monday, but the leak today “was not a manageable leak,” said Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission director, at an event on Saturday afternoon. “The team tried three times to resolve it; all three times they saw a large leak.”

NASA plans to employ it’s SLS rocket concept, along with some modifications in its capabilities, throughout the Artemis program. It will be top of the line with an Orion spacecraft for crews. However, the rocket, constructed by the contractors Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, has already been through a rough time. The development of the rocket was plagued by problems with budgets and delays that it seemed like it was doomed. It was a “wet dress rehearsal” test in April, where NASA engineers test fueling and ran the sequence of countdowns, was sent the rocket back for repairs.

The team was getting closer by June and were able to load the propellant and test the countdown until 29 seconds after launch. However, they found a malfunctioning check valve for helium and an leak of liquid hydrogen. After repairing these issues they took the rocket back for launch on the 18th of August Then, four days later announced that the SLS was cleared for flight readiness review which was scheduled for the launch for the 29th of August.

But that attempt on Monday did not go as was planned. When the core stage was loaded with propellants NASA engineers discovered a problem in the third RS-25 engine which is located adjacent on the left solid rocket booster. The liquid hydrogen flow into the engine’s chamber wasn’t functioning in the way it should and the propellant was not operating at the correct temperature.

(This issue, which is known as the hydrogen kickstart test was on their agenda in the dress rehearsal in June that was wet however the engineers weren’t able to conduct the test due to a hydrogen liquid leak.) The team also discovered cracks in the insulating foam around the outside of the rocket. However, they decided that the crack did not pose a risk of significant significance.

NASA engineers kept the countdown to T-40 minutes as they worked on the problem for over an hour. In the end the launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said the launch was an attempt to scrub. In a press conference on the same day, the Artemis team suggested that the apparent engine problem could be a sign of a malfunctioning temperature sensor.

“The way the sensor is behaving does not line up with the physics of the situation,” stated John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager.

The launch was then moved into the weekend of July the countdown process began at the beginning of Saturday morning. Beware of potential problems in the propellants, they started the chilldown procedure, which included the kickstart test around 45 minutes earlier in the countdown procedure.

The launch team as well as the weather officer verified that weather conditions were able for the launch, in spite of occasional rain showers. They started filling the huge gasoline tank in orange with over 700,000 Gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen and supercooled to temperatures of temperature of -423 degrees and -297 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, that’s when the hydrogen leak began to develop, following the oxygen was largely fuelled up. “Hydrogen’s difficult to work with,” stated Jim Free, as associate administrator at NASA headquarters, at the press conference after the scrub. The leak appears to result from a seal within the quick disconnect that measures eight inches fitting, which is used to disconnect the supply line for liquid hydrogen to the ground. It was eventually apparent that the fitting had been removed and replaced.

In the morning, at 11:17 Eastern time, the Blackwell-Thompson team was notified to stop an attempt to launch.

In an industry in which “space is hard” is an old cliche, delays aren’t completely out of the norm even when it’s a sunny day. Space shuttles operated by NASA certain launches that were ultimately successful required postponement repeatedly.

The SLS is a massive new rocket that has numerous systems to coordinate, the task becomes more challenging. NASA offers the 489 “launch commit criteria” that must be met prior to when they are allowed to “go” for launch, Sarafin stated at a press event on the 1st of September.

NASA could have to delay it’s Artemis launch until the middle of October, in order to follow SpaceX’s Crew-5 launch on the pad next to it, which has been delayed several times.

This mission will take two NASA astronauts and one of them a Japanese astronaut, and an Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, to the International Space Station. This is the first time that a Russian is flying on an American-made spacecraft since conflict in Ukraine caused conflicts among Roscosmos, NASA, and other space agencies.

The team is still deciding whether it is possible to make repairs at the pad as well as if it has to be returned into its home in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

“There’s a risk versus risk tradeoff,” Sarafin explained. Sarafin and noted it is true that carrying the rocket onto the pad can expose it to risks from the environment however the quick disconnect seal can’t be tested in cryogenic temperatures within the building.

Rollbacks are not risk-free, as the movement and vibrations create stress on the rocket. However, to reduce wear and wear, the rocket should not move faster than one mile an hour on the device known as “the crawler.” That rollback plan would guarantee an indefinite delay until the end of October, which may present risks to the smaller spacecraft on the rocket, specifically designed for miniature missions.

These spacecraft, dubbed CubeSats are powered by batteries that have low power. Some of them are rechargeable, while some aren’t. “If we need to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, we can top off the batteries for a number of those,” Sarafin stated during the press event. “It is part of the process of looking at a given launch period.”

Nelson stressed that Artemis 1 is an experimental flight. He stated that the pushback today isn’t expected to alter the general timeline of the program, which is aiming to launch astronauts to lunar orbit aboard Artemis 2 within 2024 and return them to the moon on Artemis 3 within 2025. (That lunar landing flight could slide to 2026 as per an assessment made in March from NASA’s Inspector General. NASA Director General.)

Although the Artemis team was planning to launch on the same day, NASA officials stressed that the rocket is in good working order and that they’re sure that they’ll be able launch with safety within the next few days. “We’re not where we want to be, except the vehicle is safe–it’s not safe in orbit, it’s safe on the ground,” Free stated.

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