After scrubbing two launches, one on August 29 and the other on September 3, NASA is looking at two more possible launch dates for the uncrewed test mission Artemis I. The launch has run into multiple problems since the 29th, which include an engine cooling issue and multiple hydrogen leaks.
First, launch controllers found that Engine No. 3 was not cooling sufficiently when prepped for launch. In order for the engine to function properly, it must cool to -420 degrees Fahrenheit. The third engine wasn’t doing that. Additionally, there was a crack in the flange that connected the rocket’s liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks, resulting in a hydrogen leak. And so NASA scrubbed the initial launch so engineers could address these issues.
During the September 3 launch, there was an additional hydrogen leak in the quick disconnect cavity. This is located in the engine portion of the rocket’s core stage. Launch controllers found this leak while fueling the rocket, and attempted two solutions to fix it, neither of which worked.
Why Did NASA Scrub Both Launches?
NASA put out a statement that day regarding the issues. “While liquid oxygen loading into the interim cryogenic propulsion stage continues and core stage tanks continue to be replenished with propellants, engineers are troubleshooting an issue conditioning one of the RS-25 engines (engine 3) on the bottom of the core stage,” they announced, adding that engineers were discussing next steps in the troubleshooting process.
However, NASA eventually scrubbed the launch, citing the hydrogen leak as the main problem. “Teams encountered a liquid hydrogen leak while loading the propellant into the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket,” NASA announced in a subsequent statement. “Multiple troubleshooting efforts to address the area of the leak by reseating a seal in the quick disconnect where liquid hydrogen is fed into the rocket did not fix the issue. Engineers are continuing to gather additional data.”
According to the press conference on Thursday, engineers found “inadvertent pressurization of the hydrogen line.” This created 60 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of the ideal 20 PSI. NASA doesn’t know for sure if the pressurization is causing the leak, but they do know what is causing the pressurization. Apparently, it was simply human error. According to Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, there were “manual procedure changes” between Monday and Saturday. Free stated that the leadership team, essentially, put the operating team in a bad spot when it came to the procedure changes.
When Will Artemis I Launch From Cape Canaveral?
As it stands now, NASA is looking to launch Artemis I on either September 23 or September 27. Engineers are currently repairing and replacing seals on the rocket. They are also testing to make sure they are sealing properly, said NASA in a statement on Thursday.
Additionally, there is also an issue regarding the US Space Force which oversees all rocket launches from the east coast. According to CNN Business, Space Force’s Eastern Range needs to give NASA approval that the rocket’s Flight Termination System–which will destroy the rocket in mid-air if it starts to lose altitude and veer towards a populated area–is good to go. Apparently, the system’s batteries must be charged at a separate facility before NASA gets official launch dates.
NASA is trying to waive this requirement, as they are eager to get the Artemis I mission up and running. Potentially, this could cause more delays. Space Force has said they will review NASA’s request but did not provide a time frame.