Thursday, November 3, 2022

Artemis Rolls to Pad 39B and Second BE-4 Shipped to ULA

Everything seems to be properly prepared for the Artemis/SLS/Orion stack to rollout to pad 39B again for what will be the third attempt to launch the SLS rocket on its debut flight.  First motion is targeted for 12:01 AM EDT or 0401 UTC and will be streamed live by some YouTube sources like NASA  On the other hand, the crawler transporter should be at the launch complex by dawn and many of you won't see this until after the live streams have stopped.  Those of you in the western US or points farther west may get a look at it in motion.  At an average speed of under 1 mph, it's not exactly dramatic, but drama is probably the last word they want associated with transporting a billion dollar baby to the launch pad.

The program office continues to target a launch date no earlier than Nov. 14 at 12:07 a.m. EDT.  

During discussions of the previous scrubs and rolling the stack back to the VAB, it was mentioned that the Artemis/SLS and Orion capsule have been stacked for 11 months and there were real concerns about any degradation of the systems that come from that.  Earlier today, NASA officials held a teleconference with space reporters to go over all those lingering questions.  Eric Berger from Ars Technica was one of the space reporters who was allowed to attend and publishes some important points from it in this week's Rocket Report.  (When it's published online, this will be the site it's most easily found.)

One of the big questions about the rocket concerns the lifetime of its massive solid rocket boosters, which have now been stacked for nearly two years. NASA's Cliff Lanham, who oversees ground systems, said NASA's initial analysis found that the rocket boosters provided by Northrop Grumman had a lifetime of one year. However, a subsequent analysis of their health cleared one through Dec. 9 2022, the other through Dec. 14.  [BOLD Added: SiG]

Two boosters, built around the same time; one is good until 12/9 and the other to 12/14.  Really?  Since those dates are five days apart, someone has already asked, "and then what?"  The source quotes Jim Free, who leads exploration systems development for NASA, saying NASA could probably extend their life further with additional analysis. But this will be a source of concern if the Artemis I mission has to be delayed again.  

Allow me to indulge in some pure speculation.  Given the precision that I think those dates can be known to, both of those days fall in last launch window of '22 and if asked if they can get "a few more" days out of those boosters, I'll bet they'd go as far as December 22nd, the last launch day of this year.  If Artemis can't be launched by then, something big and nasty is going to hit the fan. I don't know that they can replace those solid rocket boosters without major problems, and there are other concerns like the whole stack perhaps not being rated for more trips to and from the launch pad.

(As a refresher:  Red days are no go - they violate Orion spacecraft criteria; dark green days are longer duration missions, 38-42 days; light green days are shorter missions, 26-28 days.  Gray days are times when the required alignments of moon, Earth and whatever preclude launches at all.  There are additional constraints as well.)

On Halloween Monday, Blue Origin reported they've completed delivery of the two necessary BE-4 engines for the first flight of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket. 

“We’re excited to see ULA’s Vulcan fly,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “The BE-4 is a great engine, and we’re proud of Team Blue for achieving this milestone as part of ULA’s team. It’s been a wonderful partnership, and this shipset is the first of many more to come.”

“We are very pleased to receive the first two engines for Vulcan’s inaugural flight,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “Development of this new engine is complete, and the performance of the engine is outstanding. It has been a great team effort working together with our partners at Blue Origin and we can’t wait to see Vulcan fly.”

It has certainly been a long and frustrating development process, dating back to 2014 when ULA contracted with Blue to deliver the BE-4s by 2017.  Lots of text has been generated on why these engines are pretty much five years late, but they seem to be meeting their hype now.  ULA and a long list of customers waiting for these engines have been getting into trouble; having the first production engines delivered may well keep that from becoming deep, deep trouble. 


  1. I really hate being right. I wonder if they'll make it during 2022? Also, will the boosters start to smell like spoiled milk?

  2. Riiiiiight.

    "All pad tests should be performed in a pure oxygen atmosphere."
    "The SRB O-rings should work fine at temps below freezing."
    "Those big ice chunks falling off never did any damage before."
    What could go wrong?

    Stop me if you've heard this one.
    But at least NASA's concern for safety plods along like the crawler-transporter treads: one way, at 1 MPH, on eight tracks, and no brains.

  3. Well, it would be an entirely fitting end to this benighted project if they had to throw the SLS away because it grew mold and rotted.

    By the way, I wouldn't disparage the "drama". Nerdles will glue themselves to their screens watching liquid nitrogen boil off all night.

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  5. It's The Space Launch System That Will Not DIE... And Congress (the opposite of progress) will still continue to shovel billions at it (just like the war in Ukraine, huh?) until all the Old Guard Pork Shovelers die off and newer blood takes over Congress.
    The Moon will still be there, folks, even if it takes a little while. Guys like Musk can now make hardware to get us back to the Moon at a cheaper rate, as well.
    Maybe we need a shakeup at NASA........... nah, they know what they are doing, right? Right??

    (Sorry for the multiple deletes, having problems with the HTML code.)

    1. No problem. What you left out was the slash b where you wanted the bold to stop. Just to check if I can do this it's the less than sign then "<" / then "B>". If you use uppercase B or lowercase, some parsers insist you use the same case on both start and stop.

      Getting back to SLS. I think one of the root causes is that the guy who started the program and pushed it through years of iterations of both late and over budget was our senator, Bill Nelson. Who is now the NASA administrator. It's his baby all along.

      A recurring idea I hear around is that the amazing thing about NASA is they still get cool things done. Usually by people who keep quiet about it.

    2. SiG, been working with HTML since its inception. Trust me, I put it in but it kept getting dropped somehow - I probably found a parser bug. I've found some doozys in my day!

      Yeah, Bill Nelson needs to retire, along with SLS. Both are Old Guard and now useless. NASA will be a better place.