NASA Officials Explain What Went Wrong With Artemis 1 Moon Launch & What’s Next!

NASA-RS-25-HOT-FIRE-TEST-2022
The RS-25 engine during a hot fire test. Image: NASA

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After it scrubbed its Artemis 1 launch earlier today, officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) remain committed to launching the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from its Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The launch, which was initially scheduled to lift off at 8:33 A.M. Eastern Time today, was scrubbed roughly at its planned launch time after NASA engineers struggled with cooling one of the rocket's four engines as it prepared to start them up.

Following the scrub, NASA official's held a teleconference earlier today during which they outlined that the agency remains committed to launching the rocket as soon as it can and that it is now on a 96-hour schedule to discover the fault and fix it in order to be ready for launch on Friday.

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At the event, NASA officials explained that two reasons were behind the scrub today after teams spent the entire night fuelling the massive SLS rocket. The first of these saw one engine, Engine 3, not reaching the desired temperature for operation, and the second was for a vent valve in the rocket's hydrogen tank. Hydrogen is the SLS's fuel and since it is stored at cryogenic temperatures, the engines are chilled with the fuel beforehand in order to avoid damage from suddenly flowing the fuel and the liquid oxygen through them at high pressure for combustion to generate thrust.

During the event, NASA's associate administrator for exploration ground systems Mr. Jim Free explained that three of the four engines on the SLS performed as expected during the engine chill. He outlined that engines one, two and four were around 500 Rankine in temperature - NASA's accepted temperature range for the engine chill - but engine four was "not getting there".

NASA's Mike Sarrafin* explaining the problems that led to the scrub earlier today. Image: NASA

In order to get the engine to reach its desired temperature, NASA engineers tried to reset the flow as is dictated by procedures. Due to its density, hydrogen does not require any pumps to push it into the SLS's tanks, and it flows simply due to a difference in pressure. Resetting the flow requires stopping it while it is flowing at a fast rate to restarting it at a slow pace - a process that takes time.

Engineers from The Boeing Company and Aerojet Rocketdyne - responsible for building the rocket and its engines respectively - were also on site to solve any issue and they continued to present NASA's flight director for the mission with solutions that might help solve the problem. However, these efforts were unsuccessful as is evidenced by the scrub.

Mr. Free also clarified that the issue per se was not on the engine side of the engine but on the core side. This is good news since it means that NASA might not have to remove an engine from the rocket, and 'core side' here refers to the portion of the engine that is responsible for transporting the fuel and oxidizers from the rocket to the engine's combustion chamber.

Based on the details revealed so far, the engine chill problem appears to be the only problem left with the rocket so far, with others involving its four and eight inch quick disconnect arms being resolved during today's countdown.

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