NASA opts to fix SLS Megarocket hydrogen leak on launch pad

NASA opts to fix SLS Megarocket hydrogen leak on launch pad
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SLS on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SLS on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Photo: POT

NASA is preparing to replace a faulty seal related to a hydrogen leak that resulted in the second failed SLS launch attempt on Saturday. Repairs will take place on the launch pad, which is ideal from a testing standpoint, but NASA still needs to transport the giant rocket back to the assembly building to meet safety requirements.

Technicians will replace a seal on the quick disconnect, an interface linking the liquid hydrogen fuel line on the mobile launcher to the core stage of the Space Launch System, according to a brief NASA report statement. Crews will also check plate covers on other umbilicals to rule out hydrogen leaks in those places. “With seven main umbilical lines, each line can have multiple connection points,” NASA explained.

NASA is attempting an unmanned mission to the Moon and back in preparation for a human landing later this decade. buturing the early stages of the launch attempt On September 3, an inadvertent command briefly raised pressure within the system, possibly damaging some components. An unmanageable hydrogen leak resulted in the undergrowth– the second in a week. Previous Scrub on Monday August 29 was also marred by a hydrogen leak, though engineers were able to fix it. In the end, it was a faulty sensor that condemned the First launch attempt.

The unflown SLS rocket remains in a secure configuration, standing tall on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA is trying to launch the Artemis 1 missionin which the rocket will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a trip around the moon and back. The first release period, which ran from August 23 to September 6, has ended, forcing a break in the action. The space agency must now prepare the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) rocket for the third launch attempt of Artemis 1, the date of which has not yet been announced.

Technicians plan to install a temporary enclosure around the rocket base to protect the hardware from the Florida weather. An advantage of working directly on the pad is that engineers will be able to test the solution in cryogenic conditions. During launch preparations, liquid hydrogen is pumped through the system at ultra-cold temperatures as low as -423 degrees Fahrenheit (-253 degrees Celsius). This, coupled with the added high pressure, has the effect of shrinking and distorting components, which can lead to unwanted and dangerous leaks. particularly around seals.

as propellant, Hydrogen is efficient but notoriously difficult to control. Hydrogen leaks were an all too frequent source of cleanup during the space shuttle era, and now SLS, which is also powered by a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygenseems to be suffering from the same technical difficulty.

Engineers pondered return the SLS to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for any required repairs but chose to work on the pad. The VAB would have presented a more controlled environment to work in, but without the ability to replicate the desired cryogenic conditions for testing (testing inside the VAB must be done at room temperature). “Performing the work on the platform also allows the teams to collect as much data as possible to understand the cause of the problem,” NASA added.

SLS will likely have to go back to GVA, fix or no fix. The Eastern Range, a branch of the US Space Force, requires periodic certification of the rocket’s flight termination system. NASA has already received a waiver that extended certification from 20 to 25 days, but it’s unclear if the space agency will apply for a second waiver, which would be irregular. The Eastern Range oversees launches from the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and works to ensure the safety of the public.

At a news conference on Saturday, Mike Sarafin, manager of the Artemis mission, said “it’s not our decision, it’s the Range’s decision.” He added that a waiver from the Range could keep the rocket on the pad, “but that’s not likely.” So, under the Eastern Cordillera restrictions, and until we hear otherwise from NASA about a second exemption, the rocket have to return to VAB before the next release period.

A third launch attempt in late September or early October remains a distant possibility. The next period opens on September 19 and closes on October 4, with no launch opportunities on September 29 and 30. However, for this to work, NASA would have to complete its latest fix, run tests, take the SLS back to the VAB for recertification (which involves a very brief confidence test), and then take it back to the launch pad. . It is possible, but the ground teams will have to work hard to make it happen.

Failing that, the third release period opens on October 17 and closes on October 31, with release exclusions on October 24, 25, 26, and 28. There are two other periods, one in November and one in December, within the current calendar year.

There’s still plenty of time for SLS to launch in 2022, but it all depends on how quickly engineers can get a handle on this complex system. SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built forks a key component of the space agency artemis programwhich seeks a sustained and prolonged human presence on and around the Moon.

Plus: What you should know about Lunar Gateway, NASA’s future lunar-orbiting space station.

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