NASA hauls moon rocket back to pad for key test

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An upgraded Apollo-era crawler-transporter hauled NASA's oft-delayed Space Launch System satellite rocket backmost retired to its motorboat pad Monday for different changeable astatine loading it with 750,000 gallons of supercold propellants successful a dress-rehearsal countdown for motorboat precocious this summer.

The 4.2-mile travel from the Kennedy Space Center's iconic Vehicle Assembly Building to pad 39B began astatine 12:15 a.m. EDT and ended 10-and-a-half hours aboriginal erstwhile the rocket and its mobile motorboat gantry were "hard down" connected the pad's enactment pedestals.

060622-nasa-rollout1.jpg NASA's Space Launch System satellite rocket was hauled from the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building backmost retired to pad 39B aboriginal Monday for different effort to load the immense booster with substance successful a captious dress-rehearsal countdown. NASA

Three earlier attempts to substance the immense rocket were derailed by a assortment of problems, including a leaking hydrogen provender enactment fitting astatine the basal of the halfway stage, a jammed helium pressurization valve and occupation getting capable gaseous nitrogen to the pad for usage successful fire-prevention information systems.

The leaky fitting was the astir worrying due to the fact that hydrogen leaks are notoriously hard to find and repair astatine country temperature. They typically lone amusement up erstwhile lines and tanks are exposed to cryogenic temperatures astatine the motorboat pad, but engineers are optimistic re-tightening bolts successful an umbilical has solved the problem.

They'll find retired 1 mode oregon the different astir June 19 erstwhile they program to implicit a three-day dress-rehearsal countdown by filling the rocket's archetypal and 2nd stages with a afloat load of liquid oxygen, astatine minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit, and hydrogen rocket fuel, astatine minus 423 degrees.

Assuming nary leaks oregon different large problems amusement up, Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson plans to instrumentality the countdown each the mode down to astir the T-minus nine-second mark, the constituent wherever the main motor commencement series would usually begin. At that point, computers controlling the countdown volition bid a cutoff.

The Space Launch System rocket is the centerpiece of NASA's Artemis satellite program, an ambitious, multi-billion-dollar effort to nonstop astronauts backmost to the moon, establishing a dependable cadence of flights to explore, make successful situ resources and trial technologies needed for eventual Mars missions.

060622-padview-cbs.jpg Back atop pad 39B, the SLS satellite rocket volition beryllium prepared for different effort to implicit a dress-rehearsal countdown and fueling trial astir June 19. If the trial goes well, NASA hopes to motorboat the rocket connected a maiden trial formation successful precocious August, boosting an unpiloted Orion unit capsule beyond the satellite and back. CBS News

If the upcoming fueling trial goes well, NASA managers anticipation to wide the rocket for motorboat connected an unpiloted maiden formation — Artemis 1 — successful the precocious summertime timeframe, sending an unpiloted Orion unit capsule beyond the satellite and back. The archetypal trial formation with astronauts aboard, Artemis 2, is planned for the 2024 timeframe with the archetypal satellite landing hoped for successful 2025 oregon 2026.

The SLS is the astir almighty rocket ever built for NASA, a two-stage booster lasting 322 feet gangly and weighing 5.75 cardinal pounds erstwhile afloat loaded with 3 quarters of a cardinal gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel.

Using a brace of extended shuttle-heritage solid-fuel strap-on boosters and 4 upgraded RS-25 shuttle main engines, the SLS volition make 8.8 cardinal pounds of thrust astatine liftoff, surpassing the legendary Apollo Saturn 5 rocket.

Before committing the rocket to flight, NASA indispensable transportation retired a palmy trial of analyzable countdown and fueling procedures to verify the team's quality to precisely power propellant travel rates, temperatures, pressurization and sequencing arsenic good arsenic procedures to safely recycle oregon backmost retired of a countdown successful lawsuit of trouble.

NASA initially hauled the Artemis 1 SLS retired to pad 39B connected March 18 for a tanking trial connected April 3, but a bid of unrelated method glitches blocked 3 attempts to implicit the exercise, stopping the countdown earlier it ever reached the terminal phase.

On April 15, the rocket was hauled backmost to the Vehicle Assembly Building for inspections, tests and repairs of the archetypal signifier hydrogen fitting, the precocious signifier helium valve and a fistful of different items.

At the aforesaid time, Air Liquide, the off-site vendor that delivers nitrogen to the abstraction halfway via pipeline, carried retired upgrades to guarantee capable supplies.

While NASA managers anticipation to transportation retired the formal rehearsal astir June 19, other clip has been built into the docket successful lawsuit atrocious upwind oregon different issues unit different delay.

In: Artemis program NASA

William Harwood


Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. abstraction programme full-time since 1984, archetypal arsenic Cape Canaveral bureau main for United Press International and present arsenic a advisor for CBS News. He covered 129 abstraction shuttle missions, each interplanetary formation since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercialized and subject launches. Based astatine the Kennedy Space Center successful Florida, Harwood is simply a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."