NASA has announced that it’s sending the Space Launch System moon rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in order to replace a failed valve and fix a hydrogen leak found during tests at the launch pad.
During the announcement, the space agency didn’t mention when the rollback might occur or how long the unplanned repairs might delay the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 test flight. Although the mission was previously planned for launch sometime in June, the latest rollback is more than likely to delay the test flight in summer.
Thankfully, we won’t need to wait long to find out as NASA officials will brief reporters at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Monday to discuss their plans for rolling the SLS moon rocket back to the assembly building. The rocket will launch an unpiloted Orion crew capsule around the moon on a test flight before NASA puts astronauts on the second SLS/Orion mission before eventually sending astronauts back to the moon later this decade.
NASA’s launch team was unable to fully load the Space Launch System moon rocket with super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen during three attempts this month. An issue with ventilation fans prevented teams from loading the rocket with propellant April 3, and a misconfigured valve at the launch pad cut short another tanking test April 4.
NASA also found a failed helium check valve on the rocket’s upper stage. Managers decided to forego loading of propellants into the upper stage during the third countdown rehearsal Thursday.
In the official statement, NASA said, “Due to upgrades required at an off-site supplier of gaseous nitrogen used for the test, NASA will take advantage of the opportunity to roll SLS and Orion back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to replace a faulty upper stage check valve and a small leak on the tail service mast umbilical. During that time, the agency also will review schedules and options to demonstrate propellant loading operations ahead of launch.”
Jeremy Parsons, deputy manager of NASA’s exploration ground systems program at Kennedy said, “Hydrogen is extremely hazardous, cold, and a small molecule that is known for leaking. All of these systems have been sealed, leak checked and tested to the highest extent possible prior to wet dress rehearsal.”
“Under the unique operating conditions with the rocket, we are prepared and know leaks are a realistic possibility. We have amazing hazardous gas and leak detection systems that keep the rocket safe and alert us to conditions outside of normal parameters.”