Enhancements and Safety Measures for Artemis II: Upgrades to Mobile Launcher and Launch Pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

by Hiroshi Tanaka
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Artemis II preparations

NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is making significant progress in preparation for the first major integrated ground system tests for Artemis II, the inaugural crewed mission under the Artemis program. The teams have nearly completed the upgrades to mobile launcher 1 and launch pad 39B.

The repairs on the mobile launcher’s elevators, which were damaged during the Artemis I launch, have been successfully carried out by technicians. Additionally, engineers are evaluating methods to reinforce the elevators and strengthen blast doors to ensure their resilience for Artemis II. Refurbishment of the blast plates surrounding the mobile launcher’s flame hole is nearing completion, providing enhanced protection against the powerful exhaust plume generated by the rocket engines. Modifications to the flame deflector panels at the pad are also underway to accommodate the observed turbulent exhaust flows from the initial Space Launch System (SLS) launch.

Rigorous testing is being conducted on the crew access arm (CAA), the entry and exit point on the mobile launcher utilized by astronauts to reach the Orion spacecraft. Swing tests of the arm are scheduled for this summer to certify its readiness to support crewed missions, along with the necessary mobile launcher systems.

One significant addition to the mobile launcher is the emergency egress life safety system. This system ensures the safe evacuation of astronauts and personnel in case of an emergency during the launch countdown. In the event of an evacuation, the individuals will proceed to the emergency egress baskets, suspended from a catenary system, which will transport them to emergency transportation vehicles located at the base of the launch pad. These baskets, similar to gondola cars found in ski lifts, will be installed on the mobile launcher and subjected to testing later this year.

Shawn Quinn, the Exploration Ground Systems Program manager, emphasizes the critical role of the emergency egress system in ensuring crew safety and highlights NASA’s core values of safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion. Safety takes precedence, as the integrity of the work and successful delivery of the emergency egress system rely on adhering to these values.

The completion of the emergency egress system terminus area at pad 39B is also near, providing a designated location for the arrival of the baskets carrying astronauts and other personnel after a safe exit from the mobile launcher during an emergency. Emergency transportation vehicles stationed there will swiftly transport the individuals away from the launch pad. The terminus area is set to be finalized by the end of this month to accommodate the arrival of the mobile launcher for testing later this summer.

Further enhancements to pad 39B include the construction of an additional 1.4-million-gallon liquid hydrogen sphere for propellant loading. With two such spheres at the pad, the teams can minimize turnaround time between launch attempts by ensuring a sufficient supply of liquid hydrogen. Following the completion of construction in July, the new tank will undergo testing with liquid hydrogen flow while the mobile launcher is positioned at the pad.

The environmental control system, responsible for air supply, thermal control, and pressurization for the SLS and Orion, will also be finalized at the pad in July. Engineers will validate and verify the system’s functionality through comprehensive testing.

Once the mobile launcher reaches the launch pad, a launch dry run will be conducted, involving the Artemis II crew, the closeout crew, and the pad rescue team. This rehearsal will include activities such as entering the crew quarters, donning the orange Orion Crew Survival System spacesuits, and traveling to the launch pad in the newly implemented all-electric crew transportation vehicles. Subsequent tests will focus on demonstrating the end-to-end emergency egress process from the white room, located inside the mobile launcher’s crew access arm, to the pad evacuation site.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Artemis II preparations

What upgrades and repairs are being made to the mobile launcher and launch pad for Artemis II?

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center are repairing the elevators on the mobile launcher and evaluating ways to strengthen blast doors. They are also refurbishing blast plates and modifying flame deflector panels. Additionally, swing tests are being conducted on the crew access arm, and an emergency egress system is being installed.

What is the purpose of the emergency egress system?

The emergency egress system is designed to ensure the safe evacuation of astronauts and personnel in the event of an emergency during the launch countdown. It includes suspended egress baskets that transport individuals to emergency transportation vehicles located at the base of the launch pad.

What is the timeline for completing the upgrades and testing?

The upgrades to the mobile launcher and launch pad are nearing completion, with swing tests and certification of the crew access arm scheduled for this summer. The emergency egress system terminus area will be completed by the end of the month. Testing of the egress baskets and other systems will occur later this year.

What other enhancements are being made to the launch pad?

In addition to the mobile launcher upgrades, construction of an additional liquid hydrogen sphere is underway to facilitate propellant loading. The environmental control system, providing air supply and thermal control, will also be finalized. These upgrades aim to improve efficiency and readiness for future launches.

How will the crew be involved in the testing process?

After the mobile launcher arrives at the launch pad, there will be a day of launch dry run involving the crew, closeout crew, and pad rescue team. This includes activities such as entering crew quarters, wearing spacesuits, and traveling to the launch pad in crew transportation vehicles. The crew will also participate in tests of the emergency egress process from the white room to the pad evacuation site.

More about Artemis II preparations

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