NASA cleared a big hurdle Wednesday to keep in play hopes of launching next week the Artemis I moon mission from Kennedy Space Center.
After a scrub earlier this month, NASA went to work to fix a liquid hydrogen leak in the fuel lines at KSC’s Launch Pad 39-B. It ran through a full tanking test Wednesday of the Space Launch System’s core and upper stages that could set up a potential liftoff as early as Tuesday.
“All of the objectives that we set out to do, we were able to accomplish today,” said Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson at the end of the test that ran for nearly 10 hours.
Despite an optimistic outlook, Blackwell-Thompson stopped shy of confirming NASA was ready to go for launch.
“I don’t like to get ahead of the data,” she said. “So I’d like the team to have the opportunity to go look at it, to see if there are changes we need to make to our loading procedure, our timelines, or if we’re good as is, but I’d like the team to have an opportunity to look at that before I speculate.”
The testing wasn’t without problems, though. Once again a leak in the same propellant line that forced the scrub during the Sept. 3 attempt gave NASA headaches. But teams were able to reset the flow of the fuel line, which minimized the leak to acceptable levels so that more than 730,000 gallons of cryogenic propellant were loaded into the rocket.
“You’re gonna be disappointed when you see a leak,” Blackwell-Thompson said, noting frustration by the launch team. “I think that’s normal. But what they did is they went and looked at what are our contingency procedures, what do we have in place? How do we work our way through it? And they went through those ops just as I would expect them to do, and we were successful in managing our way through it.”
Teams were also able to finish two tests that were originally part of wet dress rehearsals this past spring that were never fulfilled because of similar liquid hydrogen leaks.
Completing all of the test objectives opens the door for a potential launch, but NASA still needs an OK to go from the U.S. Space Force, which controls the Eastern Range over which the rocket would launch.
NASA is seeking a waiver to a rule about checking the batteries on the rocket’s flight termination system, which currently requires NASA to make sure the batteries are charged within 25 days. That process would require the 5.75 million-pound, 322-foot-tall combination of rocket, launcher and spacecraft to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The last time the self-destruct mechanism was checked was before Aug. 16 when Artemis I last rolled to the launch pad from the VAB.
It’s unclear when a decision on that will be made.
If NASA does get the waiver, it is pursuing two potential launch dates. Tuesday’s is a 70-minute window that opens at 11:37 a.m. that would fly on a nearly 40-day mission that would land back on Earth on Nov. 5. The second is Sunday, Oct. 2, a 109-minute window that opens at 2:52 p.m. and fly for roughly a 41-day mission and land on Nov. 11.
Artemis I is the first of a series of missions NASA plans to return humans to the moon and eventually to Mars. This first…