Artemis draws her bow again. After scrubbing two consecutive launch attempts, NASA has set a new launch window for its Space Launch System’s Artemis 1 mission.
NASA has yet to successfully test the SLS rocket’s cryfuel system, including the last two weeks of scrubbed launch attempts. But that record is expected to change starting next week. The company plans to demonstrate a “kick-start bleed test” that allows teams to confirm that a hydrogen leak has indeed been repaired. It will also try new propellant loading methods designed to reduce heat and pressure-related stresses in the system and evaluate “pre-pressurization methods.” (Say that five times fast!)
During the countdown, engineers perform “kick-start” thermal conditioning by pre-chilling the SLS rocket’s four RS-25 engines. This “bleeds off” the trickle of liquid hydrogen into the engine, while also filling the main stage tank. Leaks in the hydrogen system, including a temperature sensor that tells the engine number. 3 was so warm, the agency scrubbed the August 29 launch attempt during the countdown.
The agency has outlined a new date for the fuel demonstration: September 21. If all goes well, SLS will launch in a 70-minute window that opens on September 27 at 11:37 AM EDT. However, for all reasons, the agency has a backup launch date of October 2
Over the weekend, the Artemis I team completed repairs in the area of the hydrogen leak. “Engineers reconnected the ground- and rocket-side plates to make quick disconnects for the liquid hydrogen fuel feed line, where two seals were replaced last week,” NASA said in a blog post. This week, the teams will test again during a cryogenic tanking demonstration. Tests will be conducted under ambient conditions to ensure that there is a solid bond between the two plates.” Hydrogen is tough to deal with like Congress, so we’ll see if the company can get it right in time.
‘It’s in our DNA to explore’
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to students at Rice University in Houston about America’s nascent space program. During his remarks, Kennedy gave a clear answer to the question: Why bother to go to the moon?
“We’d love to go to the moon,” Kennedy said. “We choose to go to the moon and do other things in this decade, not because they are easy, but because they are difficult, because that goal will serve to organize and measure our best energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, One we refuse to postpone and one we want to win.”
Kennedy spoke in an atmosphere of deep excitement amidst the Sputnik panic. His bold idealism stood at odds with the pale underbelly of Cold War realpolitik. At the time, the country’s newly-minted National Aeronautics and Space Administration was just getting its feet wet and needed money — fast. Sixty years later, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and other NASA officials gathered at Rice University to commemorate Kennedy’s historic speech. Where Kennedy stood first and asked America to give his blessing to “a gigantic rocket … on an unnecessary mission to an unknown celestial body,” Nelson asked a weary and skeptical nation to keep faith. Then, as now, NASA was about more than politics, or finance, or dominance in space. It’s about remembering to look up at the sky in the face of fear.
“We’ll launch when we’re ready,” Nelson said at the Houston event. “But mark my words, we’re going. When the final vehicle is given, Artemis I will roar to life and rise to the moon. And every observation we make and every lesson we learn on this first Artemis journey paves the way for us and humans to move forward.”
“Mars is calling. Why? Because it’s in our DNA to explore.”