After three unsuccessful attempts, NASA has decided to temporarily postpone a refueling test on the giant Artemis 1 lunar mission rocket. VAB (acronym for “Vehicle Assembly Building”).
For the past two weeks, the space agency has been trying to fuel the rocket with 700,000 gallons of cryogenic propellants, including liquid hydrogen and oxygen. The test aims to analyze how the systems behave with the cooled fuel, in addition to training the teams in the procedures of a real launch.
The trial also includes running several simulated launch countdowns. This is considered the last big test before the actual launch.
As reported here on Gizmodothe first two tests had one or more technical problems, including failures in a ventilation system that pressurizes the rocket and in a fuel valve.
On April 12, a new problem was detected in a valve in the upper stage of the rocket, but NASA decided to proceed with a new test attempt, but only supplying the main stage. Last Thursday (14), the third fueling test was interrupted when it was discovered that liquid hydrogen was leaking in a supply line that runs from the launch tower to the rocket.
Initially, a new attempt would be made next Thursday (21), but the agency decided to postpone it and remove the rocket from the launch pad. Despite these shortcomings, Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, stated that practice leads to perfection and that he was proud of the perseverance and agility of the teams involved in the trial.
“It is important to remember that we are practicing now. The team is doing an excellent job of learning when things don’t go according to plan and refining the countdown to what’s happening in real life when fueling up,” said Free.
NASA’s next steps
The return to the VAB was already scheduled, however, as the supply test is considered critical for the launch, it should still be performed at some point in the future. The consequence of this is that the launch schedule of the Artemis 1 mission will be delayed even further – as will the following manned missions.
NASA claims it will replace the SLS rocket’s upper stage check valve (acronym for “Space Launch System”). Meanwhile, crews are expected to make repairs to the launch pad’s hydrogen supply line, fixing the leak problem.
The agency also says it will review timelines and options for carrying out a refueling test. The Artemis 1 mission aims to test the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft in space, performing an unmanned trip around the Moon. If the mission is successful, the Artemis 2 mission will follow the same route, but with astronauts on board. The moon landing is not expected to occur before 2025, during Artemis 3.