NASA is finally ready to launch its unmanned Orion spacecraft and put it into orbit around the moon. Launch from Earth is now expected in late August on a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
This launch, a mission dubbed Artemis I, will be an important leg in the Artemis series, which has the long-term goal of delivering humans to the lunar surface using Orion capsules and SLS technology.
Earlier this week, NASA held a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) for the SLS vehicle – it was refueled and reached within 10 seconds of launch. The test uncovered 13 problems, including a hydrogen leak in the main booster, although NASA has said everything is fine for a launch next month.
At a news conference on Friday, NASA’s Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager for the US space agency’s Exploration Ground Systems Program (EGSP), said he was “on cloud nine” after testing earlier this week. We were told that “Data from the rehearsal [has] determined that the test campaign is complete” during the presentation.
Monday’s test launch, which was supposed to run down to T-10 seconds, was aborted at T-29 seconds due to a hydrogen leak in a quick-disconnect connector. Engineers got the rocket’s control systems to continue the countdown despite the leak, and NASA described the experiment as successful because the teams “performed several critical operations that need to be performed for launch.”
WDR last Monday also marked the first time that NASA had fully loaded all of the spacecraft’s fuel tanks and proceeded with a final countdown; A WDR scheduled for April was scrapped due to “a faulty upper stage check valve and a small leak in the utility tower ground plate housing,” NASA said.
“After looking at all the data from the WDR, we found that the test went even better than expected,” said Weber, despite the failure of the hydrogen separation port. “We recognized it quickly and never violated the starting criteria,” said Weber. Launch criteria for Artemis rockets require that they be kept within specific temperature and pressure limits; Outside these limits, the missiles will not fire.
WDR wanted to test 128 functions, only 13 of which were not fulfilled. Most of these features have been verified in previous tests.
We’re going in August
The Space Launch System and Orion will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center next week for repairs and launch preparations, which NASA says are going as planned. “NASA will set a specific launch date after hardware associated with the leak is replaced,” the space agency said.
At the press conference, NASA said a launch is planned “late August” where the SLS will hopefully fire the Orion unmanned astronaut capsule (and several CubeSats) into orbit, and then a European Space Agency booster will power the human delivery system to the moon bring orbit.
After the ESA rocket orbits within 60 miles of the lunar surface and flies over it, it will return the partially reusable Orion to Earth for a splashdown and further testing. Artemis II is planned for 2024 and will take real astronauts on a similar journey without landing on the moon.
Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at NASA’s EGSP, said the rocket will spend six to eight weeks in the VAB unless problems are discovered during inspections. Lanham said the Artemis I mission should be ready for its maiden flight in a scheduled launch window in late August.
“We still don’t know for sure; we’ll have a better idea of where we are over the next few weeks,” Lanham said.
The Artemis Project is NASA’s return-to-the-moon mission with plans to “land the first woman and first colored person on the moon,” along with exploring a larger portion of the lunar surface and building a long-term Presence on earth satellite. It will also provide the base from which an eventual Mars mission would launch. ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/06/24/artemis_nasa_moon/ NASA says Artemis I will be launched in late August and orbit the moon • The Register