In outlining the status of the repair work on the hydrogen leak on SLS on the launchpad yesterday, NASA officials indicated that they are targeting a September 23rd launch date that will require the Space Force range safety office to okay the use of a flight abort system with batteries that are significantly past their use-by date.
NASA has submitted a request to the Eastern Range for an extension of the current testing requirement for the flight termination system. NASA is respecting the range’s processes for review of the request, and the agency continues to provide detailed information to support a range decision.
The range office had required that the batteries for that flight termination system be checked every 20 days, a process that requires the rocket to be rolled back to the assembly building. It had already given NASA a five day extension to 25 days, but even that was insufficient to get the rocket launched in its previous launch window, expiring on September 6th. Though NASA has not said how long an extension it is requesting, to do a September 23rd launch would require another extension of 17 days, making for a total 23-day waiver for those batteries. Thus, instead of limiting the life of those batteries to 20 days, NASA is requesting the range to allow the batteries to go unchecked for 43 days, at a minimum.
For the range to give that first waiver I think is somewhat unprecedented. To do it again, for that much time, seems foolish, especially as this will the rocket’s first launch, and a lot can go wrong.
NASA officials also hinted during yesterday’s press conference — in their bureaucrat way — that human error might have caused the hydrogen leak.
NASA has not confirmed if an “inadvertent” manual command that briefly overpressurized the hydrogen fuel line caused the leak, but the agency is investigating the incident. Bolger said new manual processes replaced automated ones during the second attempt and the launch team could have used more time to practice them. “So we didn’t, as a leadership team, put our our operators in the best place we could have,” Bolger said. During the Sept. 17 fueling test, NASA will try out a slower, “kinder and gentler” process that should avoid such events.
If the Space Force and the Biden administration demand the range officer allow this rocket, with this team, to be launched with a questionable flight termination system, we should expect public resignations from several range officers. Whether anyone in our present government however has the ethics to do such a thing appears very doubtful.
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