The NASA team is preparing to return the 322-foot (98-meter) stack of Artemis I rockets, including the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida later this month.
The critical test, known as wet wear training, simulates each stage of a launch without the missile leaving the launch pad. This process includes loading the fuel, performing a complete countdown simulating the launch, resetting the countdown clock, and draining the missile tanks.
After three attempts at rehearsal in April, the missile group was returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building on 26 April to address problems that arose during the test attempts.
So far, the team is working to replace a faulty check valve in the rocket’s upper stage that caused the helium to leak and fix the source of the hydrogen leak in the tail. Meanwhile, Air Liquide, which supplies the launch pad with gaseous nitrogen, is upgrading its pipeline configuration to support the Artemis I test and launch.
When inspecting the check valve, the team found a small piece of rubber that prevented it from sealing properly, Jim Frey, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said during a press conference Thursday.
Frey said no problems were found with the valve, and engineers are investigating the source of the rubber because it was not initially part of the valve. The team also narrowed down the possible causes of the hydrogen leak.
Once the rocket pile returns to the launch pad in late May, Frye said, it will take 12 to 14 days before the rocket undergoes another rehearsal, which could happen in early to mid-June.
“We’ve done a lot of work getting the rocket ready to return to the launch pad,” said Cliff Lanham, senior director of vehicle operations for NASA’s Earth Exploration Systems Program at Kennedy Space Center. “Stopping at VAB is a stopping point To get back, do what we have to do and get back to the board ASAP. So we are working hard to achieve that goal.”
The Artemis team is now looking at launch windows to send Artemis I on its journey to the moon in late summer: between July 26 and August 9, from August 23 to August 29 and September 2 to September 6.
“We also want to be realistic and candid with you, as it may take more than one attempt to get the actions we need to get a smoother launch count that gives us the best chance of creating our own launch windows,” Free said.
Once the Artemis rocket stack completes its rehearsal, it will return to the building to wait for launch day.
There is a long history behind the arduous process of testing new systems before a rocket is launched, and what the Artemis team faces is similar to what the Apollo and Shuttle Castle teams faced, including multiple test attempts and delays before launch.
The results of training in wet clothes will determine when Artemis I will embark on a mission beyond the Moon and back to Earth. This mission will launch NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and land the first woman and first people of color on the moon by 2025.