Technical difficulties have caused the agency’s plans for a “wet dress rehearsal” to be postponed, which may result in a further delay in the timeline for a launch.
NASA’s new huge moon rocket is being sent back to the garage for a few minor adjustments, which might delay its first launch date out to late summer or perhaps later this year.
That means NASA is abandoning its efforts to complete what it refers to as a “wet dress rehearsal” for the rocket — a detailed practise of the countdown that is referred to as “wet” because it includes loading more than 700,000 gallons of ultracold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the rocket’s propellant tanks — for the time being.
The Space Launch System rocket, which has been on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the last month undergoing ground system testing, has been sitting there for the past month. After the testing were completed, there would be a wet dress rehearsal.
But due of a variety of technological difficulties during the countdowns, all three attempts to undertake that exercise were aborted before they could be completed. The goal of the rehearsal with a new rocket system is to discover and correct any problems that may arise.
A defective valve on the upper stage was also detected by technicians, and for the third rehearsal attempt on Thursday, the test was adjusted so that only the propellant tanks on the booster stage were filled. However, a hydrogen leak was discovered in what is known as the tail service mast umbilical, which links to the bottom of the rocket, and the rehearsal had to be cancelled due to safety concerns. The oxygen tank was only half-full, and the hydrogen tank had only just begun to be refuelled.
NASA officials said last week that they hoped to get the hydrogen leak repaired while the rocket was still on the launchpad, which was a realistic expectation. On Monday, though, they said that they had changed their minds. The rocket will be hauled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building next week, when technicians will be able to more readily access the rocket’s many sections and components. This will make it possible to replace the problematic upper-stage valve.
An off-site vendor that distributes nitrogen gas — which is used to purge dangerous gases — will also improve its systems at the same time as the purge. During two of the practise efforts, interruptions in the nitrogen supply caused the countdowns to be delayed by several minutes.
“The giant moon rocket is performing well,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, during a press briefing on Monday. “I believe we’re making significant progress with this rocket. Our task isn’t done yet, though.
This is a critical component of NASA’s Artemis programme, which is tasked with returning men to the moon. The Space Launch System is years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars in over budget. Taking into account the most recent issues, getting the rocket ready in time for a launch within a two-week window in early June would be difficult, according to Mr. Whitmeyer. Beginning in late June and late July, there will be additional two-week possibilities available.