NASA gives OK to redo Artemis test at KSC

In this view inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, work continues on the ÒstackÓ of the two, 177-foot tall solid rocket boosters that will be used in NASAÕs SLS Artemis 1 moon mission, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The boosters are made up of five motor segments and a nose cone and will provide 75% of the thrust during launch, which is currently scheduled for a test flight, without a crew, in November. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

Richard Tribou

Orlando Sentinel

NASA looks to complete its Artemis moon rocket tanking test today at Kennedy Space Center after an issue forced a scrub on Sunday. The weekend delay created a domino effect pushing the Axiom Space civilian launch to the International Space Station to no earlier than Friday.

NASA officials pulled the plug Sunday on a tanking test of the fully integrated Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule at KSC’s Launch Pad 39-B when it wasn’t able to keep the mobile launcher on which the hardware sits safely pressurized.

Some fans meant to provide positive pressure within the mobile launcher and keep out hazardous gasses failed, as did a backup set of fans. It couldn’t address the issue Sunday afternoon because it required humans to be on site.

Mission managers, though, gave the OK to go on Monday with countdown clock to resume with T-6:40 with good weather conditions expected. If all goes well, the test will complete in the late afternoon.

The primary goal is to simulate a countdown short of lighting up the powerful engines capable on producing 8.8 million pounds of thrust on launch. Instead, NASA looks to simply fill and drain the core stage with 730,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The push to Monday for Artemis forced SpaceX and Axiom Space, looking to send the first all-civilian crew to the ISS, to delay the static fire of the Falcon 9 rocket on Pad 39-A less than 2 miles away, as there is only a limited supply of safety apparatus at KSC in case of pad emergency.

That has now been pushed to Wednesday, and the launch to Friday targeting 11:17 a.m.

The four passengers, three who paid $55 million each plus a former NASA astronaut, remain in quarantine at KSC ahead of their planned 10-day mission called Ax-1.

Axiom Space has four planned passenger flights to the ISS, having contracted with SpaceX to use its Crew Dragon spacecraft. Axiom’s future plans include sending up its own module to connect to the ISS in late 2024, which will in time detach as it gets built out and become its own commercial space station.

The Ax-1 crew plans to be on board eight days performing dozens of science experiments and enjoying the view, but will need to vacate in time for NASA’s own planned crew rotation mission also flying on a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission. That Crew-4 flight is slated for no earlier than March 20.

The Artemis launch to the moon, meanwhile, won’t come until NASA officials look at the data from the tanking test. The rocket will be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building a little over a week after the tanking test completes, and then depending on any issues from the test, NASA will set a target launch window.

Previous announced possible launch windows have been June 6-16 and June 29-July 12.

Artemis I is an uncrewed flight that will send Orion farther into space than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled — 280,000 miles away, which is 40,000 miles beyond the moon. The SLS rocket will surpass the power of the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo program, producing 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The crewed Artemis II flight would follow taking humans in an orbit around the moon without landing, but launching no earlier than May 2024. The Artemis III mission, which would use a Human Landing System, contracted to SpaceX using a version of its Starship spacecraft, will bring two astronauts, including the first woman, to the lunar surface. That mission is now planned for no earlier than 2025.

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