While the rocket is still on the platform, NASA officials said at a news conference Thursday, NASA is looking to troubleshoot this issue by repairing and replacing some seals before running tests to ensure all leaks are clogged.
It is not yet clear how long that will take.
After that, there is a dependency problem. The US Space Force, a military arm, still oversees all missile launches from the US East Coast, including NASA’s Florida launch site, and that area is known as the “Eastern Range”.
Range officials are tasked with making sure there is no danger to people or property on any launch attempt. That means the eastern range should also give NASA a thumbs-up that the missile’s flight-termination system — a system that would essentially destroy the missile in midair if it veered off course and started heading in a populated direction — is ready to fly.
This system relies on batteries, however, under current rules, they must be recharged at a nearby indoor facility before newly proposed launch dates arrive.
NASA hopes to obtain a waiver of this rule. But it is not yet clear when or whether that request will be granted. If NASA does not obtain waiver approval, the SLS rocket will have to be pushed off the board and back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, causing further delays.
“If they decide this isn’t the right thing to do, obviously we’ll support that and step aside and look for the next launch attempt,” Jim Frey, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said at the Thursday press conference.
“But we’re still pushing for tank testing,” he said, referring to the tests NASA plans to perform to fix the hydrogen leak while the rocket is still on the platform.
The Space Force’s Eastern Group said in a statement only that it would “review NASA’s request.” She declined to share details about the timing.
On Thursday, NASA gave some insight into what it found out about the leak problem. The space agency has already revealed There was “unintended pressure of the hydrogen line,” Michael Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager, said Saturday, bringing it less than 60 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of the 20 pounds per square inch they had hoped.
It’s still not clear yet if this excessive pressure was the cause of the leak, but NASA knows why the excessive pressure occurred in the first place — and human error was involved.
Our management team apologizes [the operator in charge of overseeing the process] “Because we made some changes to the manual process between trying on Monday and trying on Saturday,” Frey said. We practiced it during the week but only had two chances. So we have not put our operators as a leadership team in the best place we can rely heavily on our credit team.”
According to Free, this excessive pressure is definitely something that NASA wants to avoid. NASA is looking for “a gentler, gentler loading process, if you will.”
For now, there’s still a waiting game and plenty of “ifs” surrounding the Artemis I launch schedule. The ultimate goal of this project is to get the SLS rocket into orbit and deploy the Orion capsule, which is designed for astronauts but will fly empty for this test mission. The capsule will continue to orbit the moon before returning home a distance of 239,000 miles.
The Artemis I mission is just the beginning of a program aimed at returning humans to the Moon, and eventually landing manned missions on the surface of Mars. Nelson said that problems during the first two scrubs caused no delays in future Artemis missions.
CNN’s Kristen Fisher and Ashley Strickland contributed to this article.
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