Artemis draws back her bow afresh. After scrubbing two launch attempts in rapid succession, NASA has set a new launch window for its Space Launch System’s Artemis 1 mission to the moon.
Including the scrubbed launch attempts from the past two weeks, NASA still has never done a successful test of the SLS rocket’s cryofuel systems. But it’s hoping to change that record, starting next week. The agency has planned a “kick-start bleed test” demonstration that will allow teams to confirm the hydrogen leak really has been repaired. It will also try out new propellant loading procedures designed to reduce thermal and pressure-related stress on the system, and evaluate “pre-pressurization procedures.” (Say that five times fast!)
During countdown, engineers “kick-start” thermal conditioning on the SLS rocket’s four RS-25 engines by pre-chilling them. This entails “bleeding off” a trickle of liquid hydrogen to the engines, while also filling the core stage tank. Leaks in the hydrogen system, along with a temperature sensor that said Engine no. 3 was too warm, caused the agency to scrub the Aug. 29 launch attempt during countdown.
The agency has outlined a new date for the fueling demonstration: Sept. 21. If all goes well, the SLS will launch during a 70-minute window that opens Sept. 27 at 11:37 AM EDT. However, for all the reasons, the agency has a backup launch date on Oct. 2.
Over the weekend, Artemis I teams completed repairs on the area of a hydrogen leak. NASA said in a blog post, “Engineers reconnected the ground- and rocket-side plates on the quick disconnect for the liquid hydrogen fuel feed line, where two seals were replaced last week. This week, teams will conduct tests at ambient conditions to ensure there is a tight bond between the two plates before testing again during the cryogenic tanking demonstration.” Hydrogen remains about as hard to deal with as Congress, so we’ll see if the agency can get it right in time.
‘It’s In Our DNA to Explore’
On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to students at Houston’s Rice University, concerning America’s nascent space program. During his remarks, Kennedy delivered an eloquent answer to the question: Why bother to go to the moon at all?
“We choose to go to the moon,” said Kennedy. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Kennedy spoke into an atmosphere of profound tension amid the Sputnik panic. His bold idealism stood at odds with the pale underbelly of Cold War realpolitik. At the time, the nation’s newly-minted National Aeronautics and Space Administration was just getting its feet under itself, and it needed money — fast. Sixty years later, NASA administrator Bill Nelson and other NASA officials gathered at Rice University to commemorate Kennedy’s historic speech. Where Kennedy first stood up and asked America to give its blessing to “a giant rocket … on an untried mission to an unknown celestial body,” Nelson asked a weary and skeptical nation to keep the faith. Then, as now, NASA is about more than politics, or money, or primacy in space. It’s about remembering to look to the skies in the face of fear.
“We will launch when we are ready,” Nelson said at the Houston event. “But mark my words, we are going. When the final go is given, Artemis I will roar to life and soar to the moon. And every observation we make and every lesson we learn on this first Artemis journey prepares us and the way for humans to venture even further.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mars is calling. Why? Because it’s in our DNA to explore.”