The NASA SLS lunar rocket passes refueling tests – launch can take place as early as September 27

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one step closer to conducting the first orbital flight of the superheavy two-stage Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis I mission. The launch vehicle successfully passed a critical fuel test this week. Because of this, it is very likely that a second attempt to launch it into outer space will take place on September 27.


Image source: NASA

An earlier attempt to launch an SLS rocket into space failed on September 3. While filling the rocket tanks with fuel a few hours before launch, NASA engineers discovered a leak of liquid hydrogen. They made several attempts to fix the problem on site, but were unsuccessful in doing so, which is why the start-up of the SLS system had to be postponed.

According to available data, the seals on the quick couplers on the SLS main stage, which are used to connect the rocket to the fuel line, have since been replaced. The replacement of the seals was completed on September 9, after which a trial refueling of the tanks was planned. The test was conducted on Wednesday at Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the SLS rocket is currently located.

Although the fuel tank test was deemed successful, it did not go completely smoothly. During the refueling of the tanks, a leak of liquid hydrogen was again recorded. This time, however, the problem was solved on the spot by heating the quick coupling, so that it “seated” more tightly and the leakage rate was reduced to an acceptable level. Before that, another fuel leak was discovered, but it was not that significant.

NASA is currently studying the possibility of launching the SLS rocket on September 27, with October 2 as a backup date. However, the official date of the upcoming launch is yet to be confirmed. Solving the fuel system problem may not be enough. The thing is, the new dates require recertification of the abortion system. Typically, such permission was granted for 25 days after the installation of the batteries for the emergency disconnect system and its pre-flight testing. These works can only be carried out in the assembly workshop. The last time the flight abort system on the SLS rocket for the Artemis I mission was tested and validated was on August 14 or 15. NASA has requested an extension of the certification period.

Remember, as part of the Artemis I mission, the SLS rocket is supposed to launch the Orion spacecraft into outer space, which will automatically fly around the Moon and return to Earth. If this step is successfully completed, a group of astronauts will go on the next flight around the moon with the Orion spacecraft. According to the approved plan, the launch of the Artemis 2 mission should take place in 2024. The landing of astronauts on the surface of our planet’s satellite will take place earlier than 2025 as part of the Artemis 3 mission.

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