Artemis 1 wet dress rehearsal failure pushes back launch date of NASA’s Moonbound megarocket

NASA teams will investigate a propellant leak and faulty valve on the Space Launch System rocket.

NASA/Joel Kowsky/Flickr

New setbacks arose for NASA’s Artemis-1 mission during a recent fuel-loading test — setting back a possible launch date for the Moonbound rocket.

NASA leaders haven’t definitively said that their mid-June launch target date is impossible to make. But the results of the most recent wet dress rehearsal test makes it unlikely to be ready for launch before June 29, according to a press conference the agency held on Monday.

Agency leaders discussed the next steps they might take so the moon-bound Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can ace its final test to get cleared for takeoff.

Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis I launch director, looks out the windows of Firing Room One of the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center at NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft on March 17, 2022 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA / Joel Kowsky

The rocket has been dazzling the Floridian horizon at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since it rolled out of NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on March 17. So far, three wet dress rehearsal tests have been conducted, with problems arising at each.

But it will have to return to VAB for further assessment, and rollback is targeted for April 26. There, technicians can evaluate it before they can conduct another wet dress rehearsal.

Once back at the building, technicians will be able to reach a recently-detected faulty valve in the rocket’s upper stage. Teams will also try troubleshooting a leaky propellant connection spotted on April 14 during the third and most recent wet dress rehearsal.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft at Launch Complex 39B on April 3, 2022.

NASA / Joel Kowsky

SLS stands slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty at 322 feet and will use more than 700,000 gallons of propellant to catapult itself into space. The Artemis-1 mission will see the SLS launch an uncrewed Orion crew capsule shoot thousands of miles past the Moon, traveling in space for about four to six weeks until it finally returns and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA leaders acknowledged that the rocket’s potential caliber makes all the checks and procedures exceptionally tough to get right.

There is “not a significant amount of work” needed for repairs, Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said Monday. But nevertheless, Artemis-1 will likely miss its mid-June launch date as a result. The next launch period opportunity provided by the configuration of the Moon and the Earth begins June 29 and runs through July 12. If Artemis-1 is delayed further than that, the next opportunity is from July 26 through August 9.

NASA will be focused this week on de-configuring the rocket from wet dress rehearsal mode. That work will last through the weekend, and rollback to VAB is targeted for next week.

The rocket is still doing well and the check valve is the only hardware issue, assured Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters. Teams will also look into the propellant leak and few other tasks to explore how the rocket and the mobile launcher are working together.

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