NASA’s huge moon rocket is heading off launch pad next week

NASA is getting ready to rehouse its Space Launch System rocket following three attempts to complete wet dress rehearsal testing, none of which were able to be completed.

The huge rocket will now be rolled off the launch pad and back into its storage building, called the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It is a four-mile journey from the Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the VAB, in a process which will presumably require the same massive crawler which carried the rocket from the building to the pad one and a half weeks ago.

Wildflowers frame a view of the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA has not yet confirmed exactly when the SLS rocket will be taken back to the VAB, but they have said it is expected to be early next week. Before the rocket can be returned to its temporary home, the hydrazine from the solid rocket boosters needs to be removed and the spacecraft needs to be disconnected from the launch pad systems.

Once the rocket has completed its journey and is back inside the VAB, engineers can work on fixing some of the small issues that caused problems in earlier tests. For example, they will find and fix the leak in the liquid hydrogen system which led to NASA calling off the third attempt at the wet dress rehearsal. And while they are at it, they’ll repair the stuck valve which caused problems on the second test.

In addition to giving the engineers time to repair hardware, this delay will also be an opportunity for the supplier of the gaseous nitrogen used in the test to upgrade their pipeline system.

Despite the problems arising during the testing process, NASA has stressed the positive outcomes of some of the testing objectives. “While most objectives associated with the wet dress rehearsal were met during recent testing, teams plan to return to the launch pad when repairs and checkouts in the VAB are complete for the next full wet dress test attempt,” NASA wrote in an update. “Following completion of the test, SLS and Orion will return to the VAB for the remaining checkouts before rolling back out to the pad for launch.”

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