NASA tests the Artemis moon rocket before launching it

(CNN) – NASA’s lunar megarocket Artemis I could face another attempt in its crucial ground test ahead of launch next week, according to NASA officials.

Engineers are testing a 322-foot (98-meter) tall stack of Artemis I rockets, including NASA’s space launch system and the Orion spacecraft, through its final passes on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad in Florida. This Thursday they met a hydrogen leakage problem.

The crucial test, known as the wet suit test, simulates all phases of launch without the rocket leaving the launch pad. This process includes loading the propellant, performing a full countdown simulating launch, resetting the countdown clock, and emptying the rocket deposits.

A leak of hydrogen “prevented” the end of the test

The team was able to load supercold propellant into the SLS rocket’s mid-stage tanks, but “found a leak of liquid hydrogen at the umbilical of the tail service shaft that prevented the team from completing the test,” according to the agency.

“After fixing the problem, the team decided to suspend the work because when there is a leak of hydrogen and there is oxygen in the environment out there, you just need an ignition source to close the fire triangle. So it was a flammability hazard, ”Mike Sarafin, director of the Artemis mission at NASA headquarters, said during a press conference on Friday.

The technicians collected data, emptied the tanks and made sure the rocket remained safe and stable. Despite the leak, the team was able to pass a series of critical tests during the third attempt.

“The lunar megarazzo is fine,” Sarafin said. “All the problems we are encountering are procedural and lessons learned.”

Now, the test team is still considering how to fix the leak. Troubleshooting began on Friday morning.

The team will “look into these specific areas that we believe may be the problem, how we can access them” and determine a path to take, said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch manager for NASA’s Exploration Earth Systems program, at a news conference. . this Friday.

NASA’s Artemis I rocket has problems in the final test 0:51

Next trial attempt

Meanwhile, the team is gearing up for the next potential opportunity of another wet suit trial attempt on April 21, the first time the team feels comfortable, Sarafin said. The Artemis team is working closely with SpaceX because the launch of Crew-4 is expected to take place at a nearby launch pad on April 23.

Sarafin did not disclose the exact plan to keep the race on track, as only 24 hours have passed since the breakout, but said the team is looking into “easily accessible” options.

“We hope that there is something here that is simple enough and that needs to be adjusted or easy to repair, and that we can do it on the platform and in a fairly short amount of time,” said Sarafin. “And then there are a couple of more invasive options and we have to weigh them against a whole host of considerations, including the additional stress on the vehicle.”

The longer the rocket stays on the launch pad, the more it will be subjected to wind and other stressors while exposed to the elements, not to mention the stress induced by repeated testing. This could determine when the pile re-enters the space center vehicle assembly building.

Ambitious mission essays

When asked if it is possible to start Artemis I without completing some aspects of a full test, the team said it should have met an acceptable level of risk. But the ground and flight test programs haven’t been completed, so the team hasn’t reached that consideration yet, Sarafin said.

The goal of wet suit trials is to learn about problems that can be corrected before being forced to abort a launch attempt, and it’s something the Apollo and Shuttle programs have also had to deal with, Blackwell-Thompson said.

The first shuttle underwent five or six fuel tests before launch. Furthermore, the shuttle only had one stage, while the SLS rocket has a core and an upper stage that must be powered with supercool propellant, making the process even more complex.

Sarafin said the team talks from time to time with staff who worked on previous programs, confronting the challenges of physics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, super-cold temperatures, structural stresses and flammability risks.

“History has shown that it has been a challenge for almost everyone who has done something of this magnitude,” said Sarafin.

The results of the trial will set a date for the launch

The results of the costume tests will determine when the unmanned Artemis I will be launched on a mission that will go beyond the Moon and return to Earth. This mission will kick off NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and land the first woman and first black person on the lunar surface in 2025.

“But I have no doubt that we will finish the test campaign and be ready to fly,” added Blackwell-Thompson.

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