NASA was forced to postpone Sunday’s “wet” dress rehearsal for the launch of its 322-foot rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), due to safety concerns.
The space agency said late yesterday it is now targeting Monday, April 4, to resume the practice countdown to the Artemis I mission, which will take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida.
NASA said the launch control team plans to resume the countdown to propellant loading around 7 a.m. EDT Monday, with dress rehearsal testing scheduled for 2:40 p.m. EDT
If you’d like to watch today’s dress rehearsal – assuming there are no other issues – NASA is providing a live video stream of the SLS on the launch pad, which can be viewed on the Kennedy Space Center Newsroom’s YouTube channel.
The test was aborted yesterday due to the loss of the ability to pressurize the missile’s dual-fan mobile launcher. A technical problem with the fans caused them not to work properly.
The fans are required to provide positive pressure to the enclosed areas within the mobile launch vehicle to prevent the accumulation of hazardous gases. Without the ability to do this, operators were unable to remotely load propellant into the rocket.
On Saturday, the launch site was also hit by severe thunderstorms, in which the protective towers around the rocket and carrier rocket were struck by lightning. While this caused a delay in preparations for the dress rehearsal, NASA said no launch systems were damaged and the countdown could continue.
NASA said one of the three lightning towers, nearly 600 feet tall, was struck. These towers form a defense system that protects the rocket from lightning strikes.
On Sunday, Jim Free, deputy administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said in a tweet, “I am continually impressed by the discipline and tenacity of our #Artemis team. The weather put us to the test and they persevered. While we faced challenges today, the team will overcome them and we will try again tomorrow.”
When does SLS start?
Artemis is the name of NASA’s program to return astronauts to the moon and create a sustained presence on the lunar surface, paving the way for future human missions to Mars.
The SLS, which NASA says is the most powerful rocket ever built, is a key part of that program alongside the Orion spacecraft that will take it into space.
The wet dress rehearsal is the last major test before the SLS embarks on its first unmanned test flight – Artemis I – which could potentially take place this summer and is not expected until June 2022 at the earliest.
During the mission, the Orion capsule will orbit the moon unmanned before returning to Earth.
The wet dress rehearsal will prepare the Artemis-I team for reality, allowing them to conduct operations to load propellant into the rocket’s tanks and perform a full launch countdown, among other things.
The probe is called “wet” because it involves loading more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic — or super-cold — propellants, such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, into the rocket at the launch pad.