Preparations for Artemis 2’s crewed trip to the Moon are in full swing, with NASA rolling out various fixes, upgrades and new technologies to support the mission, which could take place as early as 2024. Among the most exciting developments are a gigantic new hydrogen tank and an updated exhaust system reminiscent of the space shuttle era.
Artemis 2, the sequel to the recently concluded Artemis 1 mission, won’t launch until late 2024, but NASA, in a bid to maintain that schedule, is already in go mode. A key difference between the two missions is that astronauts will participate in Artemis 2, which will require significant additions and adjustments that were not necessary for the uncrewed Artemis 1. To this end, the Exploration Ground Systems teams have worked hard. at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A big frustration of Artemis 1 was getting NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket off the ground for the very first time. Continuing technical problems and pesky hydrogen leaks forced NASA to make several launch attempts, with the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) mega-rocket finally taking to the skies on Nov. 16, 2022, on the third attempt. And that’s not including the four wetsuit rehearsals (or five, should we choose to include the cryogenic tank test performed on September 21). As an added complication, mission planners had to limit launch attempts to a flight schedule dictated by celestial events, namely Earth’s position relative to the Moon and Sun.
Easy access to liquid hydrogen – the propellant that powers SLS’s four-engine core stage and single-engine Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – would greatly facilitate the systems team’s execution at the ground exploration to perform consecutive launch attempts in the probable event of scrubs. I say probably because liquid hydrogen, or LH2, is notoriously difficult to contain.
The new 1.4 million gallon liquid hydrogen tank, located in Launch Complex 39B, will be used to reduce the time between multiple launch attempts, NASA said in a statement. Jeremy Parsons, NASA’s deputy director of ground exploration systems, told reporters late last year that the new hydrogen sphere “will allow us to get more back-to-back launch attempts, which is a huge capacity when we are smaller. [launch] windows.” Once in service, it will be the largest liquid hydrogen tank in the world, according to the Cryogenic Society of America.
The Exploration Ground Systems program currently has an existing liquid hydrogen tank on Launch Pad 39B that can hold 850,000 gallons. This tank was built during the Apollo missions and was used during the shuttle era. For Artemis 2 and beyond, “both liquid hydrogen tanks will be used,” a NASA spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo today.
The new liquid hydrogen tank will have a capacity of 1.4 million gallons, but with usable space closer to 1.25 million gallons, the spokesperson said. The SLS core stage and ICPS require over 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen. Filled with 1.25 million gallons of superchilled stuff, the new tank will store more than double the amount of liquid hydrogen needed for a single launch, and with significant space to spare, given that some boils on the launching ramp. Together, the two hydrogen tanks will provide a liquid hydrogen storage capacity of 2.1 million gallons. Construction of the new reservoir began in 2018.
During preparation for an SLS launch, ground crews circulate liquid hydrogen from a storage tank to the base of the mobile launch vehicle using transfer lines. From there, the service mast umbilical transfers propellant into the center stage and ICPS tanks. Once the new tank is complete, ground crews will run validation tests to “make sure we’re getting the right pressures, the right flow rates, no manifold issues and things like that,” Parsons said.
A Terminal Emergency Evacuation System area is also under construction at Launch Complex 39B. In the event of an emergency during the launch countdown, astronauts can use this system to safely exit the launch pad area. The system, which was not needed for Artemis 1, will be similar to that used during the Shuttle program, in which astronauts sat in baskets held up by cables. It’s kind of like ziplining, but without the fun.
The upgraded system “will allow astronauts to exit Orion through the Crew Access Arm Clean Room via the Mobile Launch Tower to ground emergency transport vehicles and safe haven,” according to NASA. . The new emergency escape system will feature greater capacity and various upgrades to meet the requirements of Artemis 2 and the upcoming Block 1B SLS rocket required for Artemis 4 and future lunar missions.
For Crawler Transporter 2, crews plan to replace the individual shoes, or tread plates, on its two large tracks, in addition to adding new steering cylinders and performing corrosion control work. Ground crews are also repairing damage to the mobile launch vehicle during the inaugural SLS launch. This includes broken pipes, blown cameras, and blast doors on the tower’s elevator that were destroyed.
Preparations are also underway for the Artemis 2 Orion crew pod, which will actually host a crew during Artemis 2. Similar to Artemis 1, Orion will venture beyond the Moon and return home to Earth without any activity. predicted on the lunar surface. That feat – the first Moonwalk since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission – won’t happen until Artemis 3, which is currently scheduled for launch in 2025 or 2026.
The Artemis 2 Orion capsule will feature hardware not included in Artemis 1, “including normal and emergency communications components, display units, hand controllers, full fidelity side and docking hatches, sub -environmental control and life support systems for nitrogen, oxygen, water and air, as well as waste management and fire detection and suppression,” according to the space agency. Orion Thermal will be added before the summer, and the rocket’s critical launch abort system is 90% complete in terms of assembly, integration and testing.
It seems a little early to talk about Artemis 2, but late 2024 isn’t that far off, especially when it comes to NASA deadlines. The space agency is not known for meeting deadlines, so this is all very necessary. NASA has also benefited from the tremendous success of Artemis 1, allowing it to set its sights firmly on the next mission.
Following: 7 things we learned from NASA’s highly successful Artemis 1 mission
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