NASA completes test to refuel Artemis rocket despite leak

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The US space agency NASA has successfully completed all steps for filling its Artemis rocket with fuel. A leak in the pipes was detected during one of the stages, but testing was allowed to continue after troubleshooting.

The previous attempt to fill the rocket with fuel was called off due to a leak in the fuel supply. That caused NASA to abort the first launch of the rocket in early September. To prevent problems again, Artemis’s refueling, this time without launch, had to be tested again.

The test procedure was via a live stream and a blog on the NASA Artemis site. Also this time a leak occurred at a coupler, but technicians were able to intervene and allow refueling to continue after some time. By allowing the pipes to heat up and reconnecting the connection, leaks could be reduced and kept within permissible values.

The test took a total of nearly ten hours and started with the slow filling, or ‘slow fill’, of the main tank with liquid oxygen. Liquid hydrogen was then refueled, but during that step a coupling between the LH2 pipes and the rocket was found to be leaking. Once the clutch was re-established, NASA could continue to pressurize the fuel tanks and cool the rocket motors. These so-called ‘fast fill’ and ‘engine bleed’ were followed by the refilling of vaporized fuel. The final steps consisted of filling the tanks of the second rocket stage, which were also filled with LOX and LH2. Pressure tests were also performed to see if the fuel systems can withstand launch conditions.

The tank test must verify that the rocket can be safely filled with fuel before attempting a new launch. It was also tested whether the hydrogen tank could be safely brought to the same pressure as the tank experiences during launch. NASA would like to launch Artemis within a week. The first mission of the Artemis rocket is an unmanned flight, putting the Orion capsule into orbit around the moon. Subsequent missions should work towards a moon landing with astronauts.

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