A faulty sensor may have wiped out the launch of NASA’s massive SLS rocket

Zoom in / NASA’s SLS rocket could now launch on Saturday, September 3, 2022.

Trevor Mahlman

After scrubbing the Space Launch System rocket’s launch attempt on Monday, NASA officials said they are working toward a second attempt to fly the Artemis I mission on Saturday, September 3.

NASA flight controllers Aborted the first launch attempt They could not verify that the engine number was one of the four main engines of the SLS rocket. 3-Cooled properly to a temperature of -420 degrees Fahrenheit before welding. Engines must be cooled to very cold temperatures to handle the injection of very cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants.

During a news conference Tuesday evening, John Honeycutt, NASA’s program manager for the SLS rocket, said his engineering team had indeed cooled down from ambient temperature to the required level but that it had not been properly measured by a faulty temperature sensor. .

“The way the sensor works doesn’t match the physics of the situation,” Honeycutt said.

The problem for NASA is that the sensor is not easily replaceable and may need to be returned to the vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a few kilometers from the launch pad. That will delay the rocket’s launch until at least October, and the space agency is starting to worry about wear and tear on the rocket after a full year in storage.

Honeycutt, Liquid Hydrogen Engine no. Countdown to 3 on Monday and other sensors, including pressure gauges, indicate that the engine is in a proper cooling environment. So, he said, his team is working on a “flight rationalization” program that would allow a rocket to launch without getting good data from a temperature sensor in the engine.

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“We’re looking at all the other data we have [will] Use it to make an informed decision,” he said.

Accordingly, NASA’s current plan includes some work on the launch pad today, including inspecting the area where a small hydrogen leak occurred during Monday’s countdown. Then, if officials are satisfied with those inspections and their flight reasoning for dealing with the faulty temperature sensor, the company will begin counting on Thursday. In this timeline, refueling operations will begin Saturday morning, prior to the opening of the two-hour launch window at 2:17 PM ET (18:17 UTC). To give the launch team more time to work on the engine chill-down problem, a process called “conditioning” of the engines will begin earlier in the countdown on Monday.

It was not immediately clear from Tuesday’s news conference what the implications of launching with a hotter-than-normal main engine would be. From a physics standpoint, igniting super-chilled propellants in a hotter-than-expected engine would severely damage the turbopump of at least the RS-25 engine. Presumably, therefore, NASA will not launch the SLS rocket without much confidence in its flight logic.

NASA has until Sept. 5 to take the booster off the pad for a refresh before launch. As the September 3 launch date approaches, the space agency will manage technical issues and keep a close eye on the weather forecast. Although thunderstorms often occur along the Florida coast during summer afternoons, the onshore flow is expected to be very strong this weekend, said Mike Burger, the release’s meteorologist. That will push the sea breeze further inland and allow some opportunities to open up during the two-hour window. If weather clears the attempt, NASA is aiming for a September 5 launch.

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During a press conference on Tuesday, officials emphasized that they are confident of moving towards a launch attempt. Although the space agency has been heavily promoting the Artemis launch since Monday—the launch of the unmanned Orion spacecraft to the moon drew celebrity appearances, social media hype and a visit to the Florida space station by Vice President Kamala Harris—NASA has not yet completed fuel testing of the vehicle.

Nevertheless, the space agency hopes to be able to fully fuel the rocket on Saturday and calculate to T-0 without any problems.

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