The next opportunity for the agency to begin fueling the 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) Artemis I rocket stack, including NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, is Monday. Teams are meeting to assess whether resuming the test tomorrow is possible, and NASA will provide another update today at 5:30 p.m.
The test, known as the wetsuit rehearsal, began Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. ET.
The wet dress rehearsal simulates every stage of the launch without the rocket actually leaving the launch pad. This includes powering up the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, loading supercold propellant into the rocket’s tanks, performing a full countdown simulating the launch, resetting the countdown, and draining rocket tanks.
Operations were halted on Sunday before propellants were loaded into the rocket’s core stage “due to loss of ability to pressurize the mobile launcher,” according to an update shared by the agency.
Mobile Launcher main and redundant fans were not working properly.
“The fans are needed to provide positive pressure to enclosed areas of the mobile launch vehicle and keep hazardous gases out. Technicians are unable to safely load propellants into the rocket’s core stage and the intermediate cryogenic propulsion stage without this capability.”
Prior to this Sunday afternoon issue, Artemis I weathered a powerful thunderstorm at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.
Four lightning strikes struck the lightning towers within the perimeter of Launchpad 39B. While the first three were low intensity strikes in tower two, the fourth strike was much more intense and hit tower one.
When these strikes occurred, the Orion spacecraft and the core stage of the SLS rocket were powered up. The rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage and thrusters were not.
Each of the towers is topped with a fiberglass mast and a series of overhead or catenary wires and conductors that help deflect lightning from the rocket, Parsons explained. This new system offered more armor than that used during the Shuttle program. It also has an array of sensors that can determine the status of the rocket after lightning strikes, avoiding days of delays caused when teams need to assess the rocket.
Despite the strikes and delays, the team was prepared to continue with the dress rehearsal on Sunday until they encountered the problem of tanking.
Parsons shared a reminder that this is the purpose of the wet dress rehearsal – to fix problems with a new system before launch day.
“The good thing is that this is a test and not a launch today is that we have the flexibility with the test window to fix issues for the first time “, tweeted Parsons.
The results of the dress rehearsal will determine when the uncrewed Artemis I embarks 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 by 2025.
What to expect next
When the wet dress rehearsal resumes, it will involve loading the rocket with over 700,000 gallons (3.2 million litres) of super cold propellant – the “wet” dress rehearsal in wet gear – then the team will go through all stages towards launch. .
“Some breakdown can be seen during tanking,” according to the agency, but that’s about it for visible action on the launchpad.
Team members will count to one minute and 30 seconds before the launch and pause to ensure they can sustain the launch for three minutes, resume and let the timer drop to 33 seconds, then set the countdown paused.
Then they will reset the clock to 10 minutes before launch, start counting down again and end at 9.3 seconds, just before ignition and launch. This simulates what is known as a cleanup of a launch or abandonment of a launch attempt, if weather or technical issues prevent a safe takeoff.
At the end of the test, the team will drain the rocket’s propellant, just as it would during a real scrub.
Depending on the outcome of the dress rehearsal, the uncrewed mission could launch in June or July.
During the flight, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft will launch atop the SLS rocket to reach the moon and travel thousands of miles beyond – further than any spacecraft intended to carry humans has ever travel. This mission should last a few weeks and will end with the grounding of Orion in the Pacific Ocean.
Artemis I will be Orion’s final proving ground before the spacecraft whisks astronauts to the Moon, 1,000 times farther from Earth than where the International Space Station is located.
Following the uncrewed flight of Artemis I, Artemis II will be a crewed flyby of the moon, and Artemis III will return astronauts to the lunar surface. The timing of subsequent mission launches depends on the results of the Artemis I mission.