LaterNASA’s Space Launch System lunar rocket finally passed a dress rehearsal countdown and fueling test on Monday, but another hydrogen leak has caused problems that will have to be resolved before the massive rocket can be released to its long-awaited maiden flight.
NASA managers were keeping open the possibility of a late August launch, but whether the latest issue could affect those plans remains to be seen. Even so, the test fulfilled almost all of NASA’s goals, verifying that the rocket’s complex software, hardware and precise procedures will work together as intended during an actual launch.
“It’s a big day for our team,” said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the first woman to serve as launch director for a major rocket system. “Very proud that they work on loading operations and terminal counting. Definitely a good day for us and a very exciting day as well.”
Owere interrupted by a variety of issues, including a leak in the hydrogen feed line connector. In all three cases, the countdown was stopped well before fuel loading was complete and long before its “terminal” phase, the last 10 minutes, could begin.
With the leaking fuel line connector repaired, engineers on Monday successfully loaded three quarters of a million gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel into the two-stage SLS rocket, despite another hydrogen leak, this one in a quick disconnect fitting.
After a five-hour delay in resolving the issue, mission managers approved a plan to “mask” sensor readings that would otherwise result in an abort, hiding the leak from the launch control computer system.
The team originally planned to count down to T-minus 33 seconds and then recycle back to 10 minutes to demonstrate the ability to manage an unplanned wait on an actual launch countdown. From there, the count would start over and proceed to T-minus 9.3 seconds, just before the main engine start sequence began for an actual launch.
But with the countdown delayed by hours by the hydrogen leak, Blackwell-Thompson and the launch control team opted to skip the race to 33 seconds and proceed straight to T-minus 9.3 seconds.
Coming off an extended “wait” at point T-less than 10 minutes, the countdown passed smoothly into its final minutes, passing one milestone after another without a hitch.
But at T-minus 29 seconds, four seconds after the countdown was presumably delivered to the SLS rocket’s onboard computer, a cutoff command was issued and the countdown stopped, presumably because the leak was detected somewhere in the rocket’s system. computer.
While they were not able to achieve all of their goals, the SLS team came very, very close. Blackwell-Thompson said putting the two rocket stages fully loaded with propellant and entering “stable refueling” mode for the first time was a big step forward.
“We’ve done this many times in a simulation, but not with cryogenics in the vehicle,” she said, referring to the rocket’s supercool propellants. “And today, we have all the stages to refuel, that was a big milestone for us.
“And so our team really wanted to get into the endpoint count and work on those milestones and see performance, team performance, and hardware performance. And they both performed really well.”
But it remains to be seen what impact the hydrogen leak may have on NASA’s plans to launch the SLS, the centerpiece of the agency’s Artemis lunar program, on its maiden flight. It remains to be seen whether a late summer release is still possible.
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