NASA is Go For Third Artemis I Launch Attempt on Wednesday

NASA is Go For Third Artemis I Launch Attempt on Wednesday

NASA confirmed this evening they will make a third attempt to launch the Artemis I mission on Wednesday at 1:04 am ET. After two scrubs and two hurricanes, everyone is hoping this third try will be the charm. NASA officials were circumspect, however, reiterating they while they are confident Wednesday will be the day, if not, they will overcome whatever hurdles emerge and launch when the time is right. The weather, at least, looks great.

NASA Artemis I Mission Manager Mike Sarafin and Deputy Program Manager for Exploration Ground Systems Jeremy Parsons told reporters that two outstanding issues have been resolved and the Mission Management Team gave unanimous approval to proceed with the launch countdown.

Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft around the Moon. The first two launch attempts were scrubbed for technical reasons on August 29 and September 3. NASA scheduled a third attempt for September 27, but Hurricane Ian disrupted those plans. NASA decided to roll the stack back to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building. While there, they replaced batteries on the Flight Termination System and some of the scientific cubesats that are launching along with Artemis I and did other work.

On November 4, they rolled the stack back to Launch Complex-39B to get ready to launch today, November 14, but then a second hurricane, Nicole, came along. NASA didn’t have time to roll the stack back to the VAB this time, so it rode out the storm at the pad. Although wind gusts as high as 100 miles per hour (87 knots) were recorded at the pad, NASA insists that at the 60 foot level, wind speeds did not exceed the 85 mph (74.4 knot) limit.

NASA delayed the launch for two days to assess Nicole’s impact. The storm did damage an electrical fitting on the Tail Service Mast Umbilical (TSMU) and delaminated sealant where the Orion spacecraft interfaces with another part of the rocket. During a briefing yesterday, engineers were still working those issues so it was not clear whether the launch would be delayed.

Today, Sarafin and Parsons said the Mission Management Team agreed with assessments that remaining risks were acceptable and gave permission to proceed on Wednesday. The 1:04 am ET launch time actually is the opening of a two-hour window, so it could go as late as 3:04 am ET.  Weather is forecast to be 90 percent “go.”

Parsons said they replaced some of the equipment on the TSMU electrical connector through which certain measurements are made. The transients happened during power up and then stabilized. Although they did not fully fix the problem, they have redundant sources for those measurements and since the rocket now is powered up, they don’t expect the issue to recur. “The unaimous recommendation for the team was we are in a good position to go ahead and proceed with the launch countdown.”

As for Orion, about a 10 foot section of Room Temperature Vulcanizer (RTV) silicone sealant came off a seam between the spacecraft and the Launch Abort System. NASA released three images showing the location of the delamination.

The missing RTV is to the left of the umbilical, above the thin black line. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
A closer view of the missing RTV. Photo credit: NASA
Close-up of the missing RTV. Photo credit: NASA

Sarafin said based on two prior flights of Orion — the orbital Experimental Flight Test-1 in 2014 and a test of the Launch Abort System in 2019 — and knowledge of the RTV, NASA is comfortable that the risk is within acceptable limits. He explained the RTV does not come off in big chunks, but in small strips and has a “very low lift coefficient” because it is thin, relatively lightweight, and pliable.

“So we do acknowledge there is a non-zero chance we could have additional liberation of RTV in flight and that there is a possibility that it could impact a different area of the vehicle,” but the most likely area is the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is “a very robust piece of hardware.” Overall there is a “marginal increase in risk,” but it is acceptable, Sarafin said.

The RTV cannot be repaired at the launch pad. It would mean bringing the stack back to the VAB again, which is time consuming and subjects the SLS/Orion stack to loads that also can cause damage. The stack has made the trip to the pad and back again a total of seven times.

Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on their way back to Launch Complex-39B, Novemer 4, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

After weighing all the factors, the Mission Management Team’s decision was to continue with the launch.

The countdown began at 1:54 am ET this morning. A detailed timeline is posted on the Artemis blog. Parsons said the next major decision point will be 2:30 pm ET tomorrow afternoon when filling the tanks with propellant — tanking — will begin. The second launch attempt was scrubbed because of problems loading the Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) fuel. NASA has changed some of the procedures to do it in a “kinder, gentler” manner.

If something goes awry this time, they will persevere and try again.

“The team’s had to persevere through numerous trials. And that perseverance in turn has developed character in the team and that gives me comfort that we’re going to be ready when it’s our time to fly.

As our Administrator said we will fly when it’s right. And Administrator Nelson, he stands there with us understanding that we’ve got to get this right. And in spite of the challenges that we’ve had, hydrogen leaks, the storms and the other technical issues … the team persevered through a number of situations.

Our time is coming and we hope that is on Wednesday. But if Wednesday is not the right day, we will take that next hurdle and next trial and persevere through that.” — Mike Sarafin

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