The world’s largest hydrogen tank will make it easier for NASA to launch SLS Megarocket

The world's largest hydrogen tank will make it easier for NASA to launch SLS Megarocket

The pre-existing liquid hydrogen tank at the Kennedy Space Center, containing approximately 50% less LH2 than the planned storage tank.

The pre-existing liquid hydrogen tank at the Kennedy Space Center, containing approximately 50% less LH2 than the planned storage tank.

Preparations for Artemis 2’s crewed trip to the Moon are in full swing, with NASA rolling out various fixes, updates, and new technology to support the mission, which could happen as early as 2024. Among the most exciting developments are a gigantic new hydrogen fuel tank and an updated exhaust system that harkens back to the space shuttle era.

Artemis 2, the sequel to the recently concluded Artemis 1 mission, is set to launch no earlier than the end of 2024, but NASA, in an effort to maintain this timeline, is already in running mode. A key difference between the two missions is that the astronauts will be participating in Artemis 2, which will require some major plugins and adjustments that were not necessary for the uncrewed Artemis 1. To that end, the teams with Exploration Ground Systems have been hard at work. at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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A major frustration of Artemis 1 was getting NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket off the ground for the first time. In progress technical problems Y annoying hydrogen leaks required NASA to make multiple launch attempts, with the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) megarocket finally taking flight on November 16, 2022, on the third attempt. And that doesn’t include the four wet dress trials (or five, if we choose to include the cryogenic tank test made on September 21). As an added complication, mission planners had to fit launch attempts within 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 make it much easier for the Exploration Ground Systems team to conduct back-to-back launch attempts at the event. likely scrub. I say likely because liquid hydrogen, or LH2, is notoriously hard to contain.

The new 1.4 million-gallon liquid hydrogen tank, located within Launch Complex 39B, will serve to reduce the time between multiple launch attempts, NASA explained in a statement. declaration. Jeremy Parsons, deputy manager for NASA Exploration Ground Systems, saying reporters late last year that the new hydrogen sphere “will allow us to get more consecutive launch attempts, which is a great capability when we have smaller [launch] windows.” Once operational, it will be the largest liquid hydrogen tank in the world. according to 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 in use,” a NASA spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo today.

The new liquid hydrogen tank will have a capacity of 1.4 million gallons, but with a usable space closer to 1.25 million gallons, the spokesperson clarified. The central stage of SLS and the ICPS demand more than 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen. Filled with 1.25 million gallons of supercooled material, the new tank will store more than twice the amount of liquid hydrogen needed for a single launch, and with significant space to spare, since some of it boils on the launch pad. Combined, the two hydrogen tanks will provide a liquid hydrogen storage capacity of 2.1 million gallons. Construction of the new tank. started in 2018.

In preparation for an SLS launch, ground crews flow liquid hydrogen from a storage tank to the base of the Mobile Launcher via transfer lines. From there, the service mast umbilical transfers propellant to the core stage and ICPS tanks. Once the new tank is complete, shore crews will carry out validation tests to “make sure we’re getting the right pressures and flow rates, no issues with manifolds and the like,” Parsons said.

An emergency exit system terminal 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 the one used during the Shuttle program, in which astronauts sat in baskets supported by cables. It’s a bit like zip lining, but without the fun.

File photo from 2006 showing Space Shuttle astronauts practicing an emergency escape with the egress system on Launch Pad 39B.

File photo from 2006 showing Space Shuttle astronauts practicing an emergency escape with the egress system on Launch Pad 39B.

The upgraded system “will allow astronauts to exit Orion in the crew access arm clean room via the mobile launch tower to emergency transport vehicles on the ground and into a safe haven,” according to NASA. The new emergency exit system will feature increased capacity and various upgrades to meet the demands of Artemis 2 and the upcoming Block 1B SLS rocket required for Artemis 4 and future missions to the Moon.

For Crawler Transporter 2, the teams plan to replace the individual shoes, or tread plates, on its two large tracks, as well as add new steering cylinders and carry out corrosion control work. Ground crews are also repairing damage to the Mobile Launcher during the maiden launch of SLS. This includes burst pipes, burned cameras, and blast doors on the tower elevator that, uh, exploded.

Preparations are also underway for the Artemis 2 Orion crew module, which will actually have a crew during Artemis 2. Like Artemis 1, Orion will venture beyond the Moon and return to Earth without any planned surface activity. mole. That feat, the first Moonwalk since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, won’t happen until Artemis 3, 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 communication components, display units, hand controllers, full-fidelity docking and side hatches, environmental control, and nitrogen life support subsystems, oxygen, water and air. , as well as waste management and fire detection and suppression,” according to the space agency. The Orion heat shield will be added before summer. As for the critically important launch abort system of the rocket, it is 90% complete in terms of assembly, integration and testing.

It seems a bit early to talk about Artemis 2, but the end of 2024 isn’t that far off, especially when it comes to NASA’s timeframe. The space agency isn’t known for meeting deadlines, so all of this is very necessary. NASA also benefited from the tremendous success of Artemis 1, allowing it to set its sights firmly on the next mission.

More: 7 Things We Learned From NASA’s Successful Artemis 1 Mission

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