May 19, 2022

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NASA’s next Artemis I supermoon rocket test attempt begins Tuesday

The mission team plans to begin Supply of the 322-foot (98 m) Artemis I rocket stack, including NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, Thursday.

The test, known as the wet clothes trial, was modified in response to an issue encountered during the third attempt over the weekend. The engineers determined that the helium check valve was not working. The valve is difficult to access while the missile is on the launch pad, but it can be replaced or repaired later. The modified version of the wet drill is necessary to ensure the safety of the missile flight team.

Helium is used to purge the engine before loading a very cold propellant, which is wet during wet training, during refueling. Check valves allow gas or liquid to flow in one direction to prevent reverse flow. In this case, the non-working portion is about 3 inches long and prevents helium from flowing out of the rocket.

When the launch of the missile’s initial stage into the tank begins Thursday, the modified test will decompress the rocket’s valve and upper stage with minimal thrust. Previously, the team I planned to completely refuel the initial and upper stages of the rocket, but the valve problem prevents this. A procedural step during this test.

The results of this experiment will determine if there is more Testing must be done before launch.

“I’m very confident we’ll get a good test Thursday with the modified procedures,” said John Blevins, chief SLS engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, during a press conference Monday. “I can’t say I’m glad we had a fracture, but I’m glad we found it when we did before we had problems with a broken part. That’s why we’re doing these extensive testing.”

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The test simulates each stage of the launch without the missile leaving the launch pad. This includes powering up the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, loading supercooled propellant into the rocket’s tanks, running a countdown to simulate a full launch, resetting the countdown clock, and drying the rocket’s tanks.

Tuesdays will begin around 5 p.m. ET with station calls, and check-ins with each team associated with a presentation to report that testing has begun.

Once this test is complete, the Artemis I rocket will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams can analyze and replace the valve if necessary.

Officials said the three previous attempts have already provided valuable information to the team, even as they work on various problems.

“We completed a lot of the testing requirements that we needed to get out of the wet clothes business,” Tom Whitmaier, associate deputy administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters, said during a press conference Monday. “We have more to come on Thursday. The massive lunar rocket is in good shape and we are treating it very carefully.”

Although the exact problems identified during the test attempts were not foreseen, they are part of the process when testing a new missile.

“Any new missile that goes into a new program like this type of missile goes through these updates and understands how the missile works,” Whitmer said. “And that’s the kind of thing we’re going through right now.”

“I can tell you that these probably won’t be the last challenges we face,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager at NASA Headquarters, said during the conference. “But I am confident that we have the right team and the ability to overcome these problems is something we can be proud of.”

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The results of the wetsuit training will determine when Artemis I will embark on a mission beyond the moon and back to Earth. This mission will launch NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and land the first woman and first people of color on the moon by 2025.

The current issuance window includes June 6-16, June 29-July 17, and July 26-August 9, Sarafin said.