NASA Deals with Glitch in Artemis Moon Rocket Fueling Test

artemis on launch pad during wet dress rehearsal

NASA blamed the delay on two malfunctioning supply fans necessary for the safe fueling of Artemis I’s SLS rocket. [Courtesy: NASA]

NASA is planning to try again Monday to conduct a key fueling test of the Artemis I SLS moon rocket and Orion spacecraft at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. 

Preparations for the so-called wet dress rehearsal test began Friday at launch complex 39B but were stopped Sunday before fueling began. 

“I’m confident we’re going to get through the wet dress in fairly short order,“ Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters during a teleconference Sunday. “We’ve just got to work through these problems.”

NASA blamed the problems on two supply fans that feed the rocket’s mobile launcher. The fans are required during rocket fueling to keep gasses from intruding and potentially causing a fire hazard, said Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.

“We decided that we really wanted to understand that, given it was the first time loading the vehicle,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “And we made the decision to stand down to get into a configuration to go troubleshoot that.” 

The wet dress test is designed to demonstrate the ability to conduct a full launch countdown. By Monday morning, NASA said the issue with the fans was resolved and officials resumed counting down for the rocket fueling test to begin Monday. 

Artemis I—an uncrewed mission—is expected to launch in late spring or early summer on the first mission of the program, where it will travel around the moon and return to splashdown in the Pacific.

Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight around the moon and  back. [Courtesy: NASA]

A main goal of the Artemis program is to put the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface, which could take place as soon as 2026. 

Also over the weekend, storms—including high winds and lightning Saturday—forced NASA to pause operations for about four hours. No damage was reported from the storms, although a lightning strike did hit a catenary wire near the launch pad, Sarafin said. 

After completion of the wet dress rehearsal, NASA plans to remove the fuel from the rocket and roll Artemis I back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), located approximately 3.5 miles from the launch pad. 

There, engineers are expected to make additional preparations for launch. 

Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.

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