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Repairs and upgrades await SLS cell launcher earlier than crewed lunar mission – Spaceflight Now

NASA’s Artemis Cell Launcher rolls into Excessive Bay 3 of the Car Meeting Constructing on Friday, Dec. 9. Credit score: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The cell launch platform for NASA’s Area Launch System moon rocket rolled again into the Car Meeting Constructing at Kennedy Area Middle Friday for inspections and repairs after liftoff of the Artemis 1 moon mission final month, setting the stage for upgrades to the 380-foot-tall construction earlier than the primary crewed Artemis moon flight scheduled for 2024.

NASA’s Artemis 2 mission will carry three U.S. astronauts and one Canadian on a loop across the again facet of the moon, a 10-day test-flight that can ship people farther from Earth than ever earlier than. Extra Artemis mission later within the 2020s will goal landings on the moon’s floor and construct an outpost referred to as the Gateway in lunar orbit.

The Artemis 1 check flight launched Nov. 16 from pad 39B at Kennedy Area Middle, sending NASA’s unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a path towards the moon aboard the primary SLS moon rocket, an enormous 322-foot-tall (98-meter) car developed to propel astronauts into deep house. The Orion spacecraft reached the moon Nov. 21 and entered a distant orbit, then whipped by the moon once more Dec. 5 to go for splashdown Sunday within the Pacific Ocean.

Whereas the Artemis 1 mission has, thus far, been an enormous success for NASA, floor crews at Kennedy are already beginning preparations for Artemis 2.

Inspections of the SLS Cell Launcher after liftoff of Artemis 1 final month confirmed comparatively minor harm to the platform and its tower, which stands some 380 ft (115 meters) off the bottom. Many of the harm was predicted, however groups found the blast of the rocket’s 8.8 million kilos of thrust blew the doorways off elevators that run up and down the construction. That wasn’t anticipated, and brought about it to take considerably longer for technicians to finish their preliminary analysis of the Cell Launcher’s situation after the Nov. 16 blastoff.

Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission supervisor, stated in a press convention that the metal construction of the Cell Launcher weathered the rocket’s fury effectively. There was some anticipated harm to “gentle items” — like seals, gaskets, and hoses — on the umbilical arms that disconnected from the rocket at liftoff. However the umbilical arms themselves additionally held up throughout the launch.

“We did anticipate some quantity of injury, and they’re discovering some quantity of injury,” Sarafin stated.

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission blasts off from pad 39B on Nov. 16. Credit score: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Huge volumes of water flowed onto the deck of the Cell Launcher platform throughout engine ignition and liftoff, dampening the sound power and overpressure because the rocket’s highly effective strong rocket boosters fired off to ship the car off of the pad.

With inspections full on the pad, floor groups at Kennedy moved the diesel-powered crawler-transporter beneath the Cell Launcher earlier this week and started shifting it off of pad 39B Thursday morning for the 4.2-mile (6.8-kilometer) journey to the Car Meeting Constructing, the place crews stacked the SLS moon rocket earlier than the Artemis 1 launch.

The crawler parked exterior the doorways of the VAB on Thursday afternoon, then rolled into Excessive Bay 3 contained in the cavernous hangar Friday.

Contractor groups contained in the VAB will spend a couple of weeks inspecting and repairing harm to the Cell Launcher, then the crawler will transfer the construction to a park website north of the meeting constructing in January to begin upgrades wanted for Artemis 2.

Probably the most signifiant upgrades would be the addition of an egress system that will whisk astronauts away from the launch pad in pre-launch emergency. Technicians will set up pre-fabricated platforms some 300 ft up the Cell Launcher tower. The platforms will help 4 baskets designed to slip down cables to achieve floor degree on the pad perimeter.

The emergency egress system for the Artemis launches is just like the slidewire baskets used on the house shuttle program. SpaceX additionally has an identical egress system at pad 39A for astronaut launches on the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance has a zipline-like system to shortly get astronauts off the pad throughout launches of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule.

“One of many huge issues we’re doing from a floor programs standpoint is we’re including crew emergency egress on the Cell Launcher,” stated Jeremy Parsons, deputy supervisor of NASA’s exploration floor programs program at Kennedy. “On the park website, what we’re going to do is we’re including a collection of a platform for emergency egress,” Parsons stated.

“We have already got all the key gadgets fabricated, and we’re ready on the Cell Launcher to indicate as much as start work,” Parsons stated. “So we’re feeling fairly good there.”

A view of one of many strong rocket booster help posts on the SLS Cell Launcher. Credit score: NASA

The cables that join the Cell Launcher’s egress platforms to the bottom will probably be lifted onto the tower after it arrives on the launch pad, then hoists will increase the 4 slidewire baskets onto the tower within the run-up to launch day.

One other modification to the Cell Launcher entails a change to the sound suppression and ignition overpressure water system. Technicians put in new water nozzles to vary how the water flows onto the launch platform.

After groups end work on the park website, the crawler will transfer the 11 million-pound Cell Launcher again to pad 39B for verification and validation testing of the brand new emergency egress system and the brand new sound suppression water nozzles. The actions on the pad, scheduled for later in 2023, will embrace the hoisting of the slidewire cables and baskets onto the Cell Launcher tower, and sound suppression water stream assessments.

When the Cell Launcher is again at pad 39B, floor groups will even run assessments with a brand new 1.4 million-gallon liquid hydrogen storage tank on the seaside launch advanced. The brand new liquid hydrogen tank provides to the gas storage capability on the pad to allow extra launch alternatives for the Artemis 2 mission and future Artemis flights.

The house shuttle-era liquid hydrogen tank on the pad solely contained sufficient gas to help one SLS launch try. Tanker vans wanted to replenish the hydrogen tank after every fueling of the rocket, that means Artemis 1 launch makes an attempt needed to be not less than two days aside.

“We constructed a brand new hydrogen sphere that’s bought over 1.4 million gallons,” Parsons stated. “That can permit us to get extra back-to-back launch makes an attempt, which is a big functionality after we’ve bought smaller (launch) home windows and issues like that.”

Throughout an SLS countdown, super-cold liquid hydrogen flows from the bottom storage tank by cross-country switch strains and thru the bottom of the Cell Launcher, then into the core stage tank by a tail service mast umbilical. NASA discovered the hydrogen umbilical connection was leaky throughout the Artemis 1 launch marketing campaign, however the launch crew adjusted the loading process to scale back stress on the umbilical seal. The adjustments eradicated any unsafe hydrogen leaks throughout the Artemis 1 launch countdown Nov. 16.

Validation testing with the brand new liquid hydrogen storage tank and the Cell Launcher will assist engineers “ensure we’re getting the proper pressures, stream charges, no points with manifolding, and issues alongside these strains,” Parsons stated.

“After which actually an enormous piece of it will likely be testing our emergency egress system, ensuring we’re hitting the entire anticipated hundreds onto that system, after which actually form of determining additionally how lengthy that takes to arrange, so we will plan our pad flows appropriately,” Parsons stated.

An in depth-up of the crew entry arm on NASA’s Artemis Cell Launcher on Dec. 8. Credit score: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

There even be swing assessments of the crew entry arm on the Cell Launcher to make sure it might transfer at quicker speeds, which might be required within the occasion of a launch pad emergency with astronauts on the Orion crew capsule. The crew entry arm is the walkway that astronauts and floor groups use to board the Orion spacecraft.

Then the Cell Launcher will roll again to the Car Meeting Constructing for extra verification and validating assessments earlier than stacking of the Area Launch System for Artemis 2 will get underway.

Meeting the SLS moon rocket will start with stacking of the 2 strong rocket boosters. The 5 pre-fueled segments of every booster will probably be delivered to Kennedy subsequent yr on railcars from Northrop Grumman’s booster manufacturing facility in Utah.

Then the core stage will probably be positioned between the boosters. Boeing, the SLS core stage contractor, is ending work on the Artemis 2 core stage at a manufacturing facility in New Orleans earlier than transport the rocket to the Florida launch base. An higher stage and Orion crew capsule will probably be lifted on prime of the core stage to complete the build-up of the Artemis 2 moon rocket earlier than its launch set for 2024.

The Artemis 2 mission will use the identical model of the Area Launch System, referred to as Block 1, as Artemis 1. The Artemis 3 mission, scheduled for no sooner than 2025, will mark the primary lunar touchdown of the Artemis moon program, and would be the remaining flight of the SLS Block 1 rocket configuration.

NASA and Boeing are growing a bigger four-engine Exploration Higher Stage to interchange the single-engine higher stage used on the SLS Block 1 rocket. The brand new Area Launch System configuration, referred to as Block 1B, is taller and can want a brand new Cell Launcher for the Artemis 4 mission.

The SLS Cell Launcher will use a slidewire basket emergency egress system just like the one used within the house shuttle program. This picture exhibits shuttle astronauts training use of the slidewire system in 2009. Credit score: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Bechtel received a NASA contract to construct the brand new Cell Launcher, referred to as ML-2, in 2019, however the venture has suffered delays and price overruns. A report by NASA’s inspector normal in June blamed Bechtel for a lot of the issues with the ML-2 venture. The inspector normal reported Bechtel underestimated the general scope and complexity of designing and constructing ML-2.

In a Senate listening to in Could, NASA Administrator Invoice Nelson stated Bechtel underbid on the ML-2 contract. As an alternative of costing $383 million, as initially projected, Bechtel estimates ML-2 is now anticipated to run $960 million earlier than its completion in late 2025, in accordance with NASA’s inspector normal. However unbiased reviewers have concluded ML-2 might value almost $1.5 billion and is probably not prepared till late 2027.

Parsons stated the readiness of ML-2, and never the event of the brand new higher stage, is presently within the essential path for the Artemis 4 launch. He stated Bechtel is finishing the design of the brand new Cell Launcher, with metal fabrication resulting from start in 2023.

“By way of after we ship (ML-2), we’re post-2025 proper now,” he stated. “Proper now Cell Launcher 2 is the essential path for Artemis 4. That’s one thing that we’re working the schedule very intensively on, including shifts, taking a look at what we will compress, and issues alongside these strains.”

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.



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