Next Attempt for Artemis I Test in June

Next Attempt for Artemis I Test in June

NASA officials said today they plan to try again in June to complete the Wet Dress Rehearsal test for the Artemis I mission. The test was scrubbed three times in April before the agency decided to return the Space Launch System rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs while fixes were made by a contractor to a gaseous nitrogen supply line.  The launch date for Artemis I will not be set until the test is complete.

NASA rolled the SLS with an Orion capsule on top out to Launch Complex 39-B on March 17-18 hoping to quickly complete a two-day test of filling the tanks on the rocket’s core stage and upper stage with fuel and practicing countdowns to within 9.3 seconds of a simulated launch.

The Space Launch System rocket with a Orion capsule on top at Launch Complex 39-B, Kennedy Space Center, April 2022. Credit: NASA

The first attempt was scrubbed on April 3 when the primary and secondary fans needed to pressurize the Mobile Launcher to keep out hazardous fumes malfunctioned. On April 4, a helium check valve on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) upper stage failed. The third try on April 14 ended when a hydrogen leak was detected on the Tail Service Mast Umbilical on the Mobile Launcher that connects to the core stage.

At that point, NASA decided to roll the “stack” back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to fix those problems while Air Liquide, the contractor that supplies gaseous nitrogen (GN2) to purge propellant lines, upgraded its system to accommodate the large amounts of GN2 needed for SLS. Problems with GN2 flow delayed the test several times, but did not cause the scrubs.

Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, told reporters today that the upgrades to the GN2 system should be completed next week. The helium check valve on the ICPS has been replaced, though they are still looking to determine the root cause of the problem — a piece of rubber that prevented the valve from closing. The hydrogen leak was found to be the result of a failure to retorque gaskets on either side of the connection between the hydrogen umbilical on the Mobile Launcher. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle systems manager for NASA Exploration Ground Systems at KSC, said it had not been done prior to rolling out to the pad and called it a lesson learned.

They are hoping to resolve all those issues and roll back out to the launch pad in mid-to-late May and try again to complete the Wet Dress Rehearsal, “wet” because they are fueling the tanks, in early- to mid-June. Free said they expect to get it done with just one more try, but cautioned that it may take two.

If all goes well, the Artemis I launch itself could take place in August. Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight of SLS and Orion around the Moon and back to Earth. NASA wants the return to Earth to happen during daylight, which sets conditions on when the launch can occur, basically every other two weeks. The duration of the mission varies from 26-42 days depending on the day of launch.

The next two launch periods are July 26-August 9, though NASA is looking only at the August end of that window now, and August 23-September 6, except for August 30-September 1.

NASA needs to fit the Artemis I launch in with other launches from the Eastern Range including the launch of its Psyche spacecraft to the asteroid 16 Psyche in the main asteroid belt. Psyche’s launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy has priority over Artemis I since it has an even more restricted launch window, opening on August 1.

A NASA spokesperson told after the briefing that additional Artemis I launch periods through the end of this year are:

    • September 19-October 4
    • October 17-31
    • November 12-27
    • December 9-22

Those are preliminary, however, because detailed analysis is not done until about two months out.

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