STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
NASA managers cleared the company’s leak-bedeviled Artemis moon rocket for the beginning of one other countdown early Monday, however engineers should resolve questions on hurricane-damaged insulation earlier than the massive booster could be cleared for blastoff on an unpiloted moonshot.
After a number of delays attributable to hydrogen gasoline leaks and different glitches, together with the rocket’s nail-biting brush with Hurricane Nicole final week, NASA managers met Sunday to evaluate launch preparations and agreed to start out a 47-hour 10-minute countdown at 1:54 a.m. EST Monday. Launch is deliberate for 1:04 a.m. Wednesday.
However excessive winds from Nicole precipitated a skinny strip of caulk-like materials referred to as RTV to delaminate and draw back from the bottom of the Orion crew capsule’s protecting nostril cone on the high of the rocket.
The fabric is used to fill in a slight indentation the place the fairing attaches to the capsule, minimizing aerodynamic heating throughout ascent. The fairing matches over the Orion capsule and is jettisoned as soon as the rocket is out of the dense decrease ambiance.
“It was an space that was about 10 toes in size (on the) windward aspect the place the storm blew by way of,” stated mission supervisor Mike Sarafin. “It’s a very, very skinny layer of RTV, it’s about point-two inches or much less … in thickness.”
Engineers wouldn’t have entry for repairs on the pad and should develop “flight rationale,” that’s, a justification for flying regardless of the delaminated RTV, as a way to proceed with the launch. Managers need to be sure any extra materials that pulls away in flight won’t influence and injury downstream elements.
The problem is paying homage to a debate following a foam particles incident in October 2002 that dented an electronics meeting on the base of a shuttle booster. In that case, NASA opted to proceed flying whereas engineers developed a repair. Two flights later, one other foam influence fatally broken the shuttle Columbia’s left wing.
Sarafin stated the SLS rocket, making an unpiloted take a look at flight, “is a basically totally different automobile design.”
“The automobile on this case is taller, and we do have to take that under consideration,” he stated. “However by way of hitting vital elements … the physics are the identical, the evaluation could be very comparable, however the place vital elements are positioned (is) simply basically totally different.”
In any case, NASA’s mission administration crew plans to fulfill once more Monday to evaluate the flight rationale and decide if the countdown can proceed to launch.
If all goes nicely, the launch crew will start pumping 750,000 gallons of supercold liquid oxygen and hydrogen gasoline again into the massive rocket’s tanks beginning simply earlier than 4 p.m. Tuesday, utilizing revised “kindler, gentler” strategies to manage temperatures and decrease sharp stress jumps to forestall leaks in vital seals.
If any issues do present up, engineers may have two hours to resolve them earlier than the launch window closes.
However the climate is 90 p.c “go” and if the fueling procedures work as meant, the 322-foot-tall House Launch System rocket’s 4 shuttle most important engines and prolonged strap-on solid-fuel boosters ought to lastly roar to life at 1:04 a.m. Wednesday, opening a brand new period in American area flight.
Briefly turning night time into day because it climbs away atop 8.8 million kilos of thrust, the 5.7-million-pound SLS will shortly speed up because it consumes propellants and loses weight, passing by way of the velocity of sound in lower than one minute.
The 2 strap-on boosters, which offer the lion’s share of the rocket’s preliminary thrust, will burn out and fall away about two minutes and 10 seconds after liftoff. The 4 hydrogen-fueled engines powering the core stage will shut down six minutes later, placing the Orion capsule and the SLS second stage into an preliminary elliptical orbit.
After elevating the low level of the orbit, the one engine powering the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS, will fireplace once more about 90 minutes after launch to interrupt out of Earth orbit and head for the moon. The Orion capsule and its service module will separate a couple of minutes later to proceed the remainder of the journey on their very own.
The aim of the Artemis 1 mission is to ship the Orion spacecraft on a looping trajectory past the moon in a vital take a look at of the automobile’s propulsion, navigation and solar energy programs earlier than returning to Earth for a 5,000-degree re-entry and splashdown within the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego.
If the Artemis 1 flight goes nicely, NASA plans to launch 4 astronauts atop a second SLS for a lunar shakedown mission — Artemis 2 — in late 2024, adopted by an astronaut touchdown mission within the 2025-26 timeframe.
However that assumes the Artemis 1 flight goes nicely. As Jim Free, director of exploration programs at NASA Headquarters, put it Friday, “we’re by no means going to get to Artemis 2 if Artemis 1 isn’t profitable.”