Artemis launch timing may depend on emergency detonation system

Like all large rockets, NASA’s Space Launch System is equipped with powerful engines and thousands of gallons of highly combustible propellants capable of lifting a propellant the size of a large building from Earth and traveling many times the speed of sound outside the atmosphere.

Officially known as the Flight Termination System, this is a detonation system designed to destroy the rocket should it begin to veer off course and threaten people on the ground. In the dangerous world of rocketry, it is a vital and ubiquitous security component, operated by the military. But it’s also creating a bit of a headache for NASA as it struggles to launch the SLS rocket for the first time.

The Space Force requires that the SLS Termination System batteries be recharged from time to time to ensure they are in good working order. The problem for NASA is that this can only be done in the rocket assembly building, which means they would have to do the arduous work of rolling the 322-foot-tall rocket off the pad, where it sits. find now, to the building four miles away. — a trip that can take about eight hours each way.

It would further delay a launch that was canceled twice last week due to other technical issues, including a massive leak of liquid hydrogen the rocket uses as fuel.

NASA already got space force to extend the end-of-flight battery requirement from 20 to 25 days so that it can attempt a launch in the latter part of its final launch period, which ended on Tuesday.

Now NASA is in talks with the Space Force for a waiver that would allow the deadline to be extended again. But this time, the waiver is expected to extend the original 20-day requirement to more than 40 days, as NASA’s first launch attempt is a two-week period that begins September 19.

The launch would be the first in NASA’s Artemis campaign to eventually bring astronauts back to the lunar surface. This first mission would send the Orion spacecraft, without any astronauts on board, into orbit around the moon. It would be followed by a crewed flight that would orbit again, but not land on the moon, possibly in 2024, with an upcoming landing in 2025 or 2026.

After years of delays and setbacks, NASA officials are eager to get the first mission off the ground. But they struggled with a series of problems. The first attempt was canceled due to a bad reading from the engine sensor. Then, on Saturday, they could not control a large hydrogen leak and said there was also a sudden increase in fuel line pressure that took officials by surprise.

Now it’s grappling with termination system constraints, and it’s unclear whether Space Force’s Delta 45 space launch, which oversees what’s known as the Eastern Range, would grant the extension.

“The first thing is to protect the public, and the Eastern Channel takes that mandate to protect the public very seriously,” said Wayne Hale, a former NASA space shuttle flight director who now chairs a NASA advisory board. . The rockets, he said in an interview, are “actually a bomb, it’s a huge bomb” and the wing goes to great lengths to make sure the termination systems work before they do. do not allow launches.

“They are consummate professionals,” said Wayne Monteith, the former commander of the 45th Space Wing. “If something goes wrong, this is the team you want on console.”

NASA said Tuesday evening that engineers would replace the seal that malfunctioned during the hydrogen leak on the launch pad, instead of taking it back to the assembly building. This would allow him to test the seal by running liquid hydrogen through it, which is kept at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Doing this work on the pad also allows teams to collect as much data as possible to understand the cause of the issue,” NASA said in a statement.

There is a downside, however: the longer the rocket is outdoors, the more exposure it has to the weather that is common along the Florida coast at this time of year.

“We are aware that we are out there in the elements when we are in the pad,” Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager, told reporters after the scrub on Saturday.

While it performs the repair work, NASA said it will “install an enclosure around the work area to protect the hardware from weather and other environmental conditions, but allow engineers to test the repair in cryogenic or super cold conditions”.

He noted that to “meet the Space Force’s current requirements” for end-of-flight batteries, it “would need to taxi the rocket and spacecraft” back to the assembly building to reset the batteries.

If so, NASA may not be able to attempt another launch. until the next opportunity, a period of about two weeks that begins on October 4. The launch capability of the SLS is determined by the position of the Earth and the Moon, since the Orion spacecraft cannot be in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time. Its solar panels need to stay lit in order to power the spacecraft and make sure it maintains the right temperature.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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