NASA is moving toward another attempt Tuesday to launch the Artemis 1 moon rocket on its maiden flight delayed by leaks as it closely monitors the path of an expected hurricane that threatens to bring high winds and heavy rain to Florida’s space coast, they said. officials on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Range Space Force, which oversees all military and civilian launches from Florida, granted a NASA request to waive a lengthy inspection of the rocket’s self-destruct batteries that would have required a pushback to the agency’s vehicle. assembly building.
With the waiver in hand, and with engineers saying a fuel test on Wednesday showed leaks in the rocket’s hydrogen fuel line system are manageable, weather is the main constraint to getting the Artemis 1 mission off the ground. , which is long overdue.
The goal of the test flight is to send an unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a long flight around the moon to help pave the way for the first piloted launch in 2024 and a landing mission in 2025-26.
But the path to the Space Launch System rocket launch has been rocky, and now the weather threatens further delay.
The National Hurricane Center predicts that a storm, known as Tropical Depression No. 9, will become a major hurricane (Ian is the next available name) in the next few days, crossing western Cuba and then hitting the southwestern coast of Florida. , just south of Tampa.
The forecast track shows the storm moving northeast across the Florida panhandle, possibly bringing tropical storm force winds or higher to the Kennedy Space Center, where the SLS rocket is exposed on pad 39B.
While the $4.1 billion moon rocket won’t launch in high winds, chief engineer John Blevins said it can safely withstand gusts of up to 74 knots on the pad. And while the official forecast is currently 80% “no-go” for a Tuesday launch, it doesn’t violate NASA’s safety restrictions to stay on the pad.
But if the forecast worsens, engineers could transport the SLS back to the protection of the Vehicle Assembly Building about three days in advance. NASA’s mighty tracked transporter returned to pad 39B on Friday afternoon as a precaution. But the rollback is a last resort, a move that would likely delay the rocket’s maiden flight by several more weeks.
“Our plan A is to stay the course and take off on September 27,” said Mike Bolger, director of Exploration Ground Systems at the Kennedy Space Center. “We realize that we also need to pay close attention and come up with a plan B.”
“If we were to (go with) plan B, we need a couple of days to go from our current tank test, or launch configuration, to run a rollback and back to VAB protection,” Bolger added.
He said the team planned to meet Friday night to discuss the latest forecast “and we think we’re likely to make a decision no later than tomorrow morning or very early afternoon” on how to proceed.
“We’re good on the shelf for winds up to 74 knots max,” Bolger said. “And for the pullback, we’re looking at a forecast of sustained winds of less than 40 knots. We’ll be watching it closely. More information is better, and I think in the next 24 hours or so, hopefully we’ll get some good news and we’ll continue to with our plan A”.
Tom Whitmeyer, a senior manager at NASA Headquarters, downplayed climate concerns, telling reporters that “it’s not even a named storm, it’s a tropical depression, number nine. It’s very early and some of the traces that we’ve seen go in different directions and go with different speeds and different intensity.
But the National Hurricane Center forecast for 5 p.m. -Strong winds and heavy rainfall.
Friday marked 190 days since the SLS rocket was first transported to Pad 39B for what turned out to be the first in a frustrating series of fuel tests to resolve a variety of technical issues and repeated problems with hydrogen leaks in quick disconnect fittings where volatile propellant enters the rocket base.
After three tank test attempts, a return to the VAB for repairs, and a fourth test on June 20, engineers transported the SLS rocket back to the VAB for a second time to perform additional troubleshooting. The rocket was moved back to the pad in mid-August for a launch attempt on the 29th.
But two attempts in a row were canceled due to more hydrogen problems. That prompted launch pad repairs to replace a suspect seal on an 8-inch hydrogen quick-disconnect fitting that was previously leaked.
During a leak test Wednesday to verify the repair, the fitting leaked again, but engineers were able to reduce it to acceptable levels using lower pressures and flow rates.
The “kinder, smoother” fueling technique was meant to put less stress on the hardware, and it worked. Engineers were able to fully charge the rocket and successfully carry out two critical tests of the core stage engine cooling system.
But NASA has yet to bring the SLS countdown to its last half minute, and weather aside, getting to zero on Tuesday could still be a challenge. Any additional leaks or other issues that may arise will need to be addressed in a shorter release window of 70 minutes.
NASA has a backup launch opportunity on October 2, but after that, the Artemis 1 mission will likely be put on hold until NASA launches a new crew to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. That launch is currently scheduled for October 3, weather permitting.
Source : www.cbsnews.com