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NASA Set To Begin Artemis II Ground System Testing

As NASA prepares to launch people back to the moon for the first time in 50 years, engineers are preparing for a series of ground demonstration tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the Artemis II mission.

  • NASA Ready to begin Artemis II Ground System Testing
  • Final Test Of Mobile Launcher Ahead Of SLS Stacking
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Wed Sep 20 2023Written by Zac Aubert

As NASA prepares to launch people back to the moon for the first time in 50 years, engineers are preparing for a series of ground demonstration tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the Artemis II mission.

These tests, known as integrated system verification and validation tests, will assess the readiness of the mobile launcher, Launch Pad 39B, and the astronauts on the mission to support launch.

The goal is to understand how these systems work together and demonstrate integrated processing and launch capabilities. Most of the testing will occur at Launch Pad 39B, and once completed, the mobile launcher will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building to integrate the Artemis II Moon rocket.

Test 1: Launch Day Demonstration

The first test for the Artemis II Groud System Testing will focus on preparing the crew for launch day activities.

The Artemis II crew will practice putting on their spacesuits at Kennedy's Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, then use electric crew transportation vehicles to reach the launch pad. Once at the pad, they will board the mobile launcher and access the crew access arm used to board Orion on launch day.

While the actual rocket and spacecraft won't be present, this test will help the team prepare for the procedures required to get the crew to their Moon-bound mission.

Test 2: Imagery Test

Engineers will conduct tests to ensure the proper functioning of high-speed imagery cameras at Launch Pad 39B. This comes after 32 of 33 cameras for Artemis 1 were set to wrong exposure settings.

These cameras play a crucial role in monitoring critical components and systems during launch countdown and liftoff, as well as in post-launch analysis.

During a water flow test, the cameras will be set up in a launch countdown configuration, and their performance will be evaluated over several hours.

This testing aims to confirm that each camera operates as expected, ensuring reliable data capture during the launch process.

Test 3: Water Flow Tests

The testing of this ignition overpressure protection and sound suppression system will take place over several months while the mobile launcher is at the launch pad. 

Flow tests will involve releasing a massive amount of water from overhead tanks to confirm the proper functioning of all system components; to protect the crew, SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, and ground structures from the intense noise, heat, and energy generated during ignition.

Approximately 400,000 gallons of water will be released onto the mobile launcher's deck, flame hole, and the pad's flame deflector when the SLS's solid rocket boosters and RS-25 engines ignite. This water serves to deflect over pressurization and suppress the loud sound produced during liftoff, ensuring a successful launch. 

Test 4: New Liquid Hydrogen Tank Flow Test

NASA has constructed an extra liquid hydrogen sphere tank at the launch pad to reduce the time between launch attempts.

To verify its proper functioning and safe delivery of super-cold liquid gas to the mobile launcher and SLS during the countdown, teams will practice transferring the cryogenic gas, which is at a temperature of minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit, from the new tank while the mobile launcher is at the pad.

After the SLS components are assembled, teams will also conduct fueling operations at the pad to further test the new tank before the actual launch.

Test 5: Emergency Egress Demonstration

To prepare for potential emergency situations during the launch countdown of Orion, astronauts and pad personnel have a plan in place. They will use emergency egress baskets suspended from a catenary system on the mobile launcher to evacuate. From there, they will descend to emergency transport vehicles located at the base of the launch pad for safe evacuation.

In a week-long test, teams will practice operating the emergency egress system both during daylight and at night to cover various launch scenarios. This training will involve leaving the crew access arm and moving to the terminus area at the pad.

During this test, no one will actually ride in the emergency egress baskets. Instead, teams will conduct separate tests using water tanks filled to different levels to simulate the weight of passengers and ensure the system's functionality in case of a real emergency.

Test 6: Environmental Control System and Air and Gaseous Nitrogen Test

During the mobile launcher's stay at the launch pad, engineers will conduct tests on an environmental control system. The purpose is to validate upgrades and demonstrate launch timeline procedures.

This system is responsible for providing air supply, thermal control, and pressurization to both the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft during cryogenic loading.

Additionally, teams will practice the process of drying out the propellant lines and tanks on the mobile launcher and the launch pad. This is done to ensure that no moisture or contaminants are left in the system when they start loading liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the SLS. To achieve this, they will remove air and gaseous nitrogen from the system to ensure it's ready for propellant loading.

Test 7: Firing Room Testing

Engineers will conduct comprehensive testing of all components in the firing room of the Launch Control Center, including software, audio communication loops, and imagery. In particular, they will assess the audio communication loop used to communicate with astronauts inside Orion during the launch countdown and test a switch that would be used in the unlikely event of a pad abort. This is in addition to all the Artemis II rehersals of the launch control teams.

The Artemis II flight, lasting approximately 10 days, is a critical test of NASA's foundational human deep space exploration capabilities. It marks the first time the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will be tested with astronauts on board, paving the way for lunar surface missions, including historic milestones such as landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon.