The persistent issues that have been arising with trying to fuel Artemis I for its maiden flight are drawing attention to an awkward conclusion. Either the contractors for Artemis and whoever is running Mission Control forgot how to work with liquid hydrogen or everyone who knew how to do it has retired or otherwise left the business. There’s a simple root cause, though, embedded in the joke that the SLS is “the Shuttles’ Leftover S***.” The Shuttle program had trouble with liquid H2 as well and since the SLS program is reusing the Space Shuttle Main Engines, they have to use Hydrogen and Oxygen just like the Shuttles did.
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If hydrogen is so hard to work with and hard to handle compared to kerosene (RP-1) or methane, why use it? Back to the first paragraph: when congress allocated funds to start the program they mandated the use of the Shuttle hardware. At this point, it might add some perspective to consider much of the Shuttle hardware was designed around 45 years ago.
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Last Saturday’s countdown – cancelled when the hydrogen tank was 11% filled – was the sixth time they’ve attempted to fuel this launch vehicle; it’s tempting to call these tests a WDR (wet dress rehearsal) but I don’t think they really accomplished enough to deserve that name.
How much do you want to bet that the seventh time will be the charm?
There’s more at the link. It makes very interesting reading, particularly for aviation and spaceflight buffs.
I wasn’t aware that the SLS program was mandated to use old, surplus Space Shuttle hardware. That makes no sense to me at all. If those components were designed back in the 1970’s, when the Space Shuttle was conceived, why would we not replace them with more modern hardware designed in the 2000’s, with all the improvements we’ve been able to come up with during the intervening decades?
I guess we can blame the politicians. They wanted to look good to their constituents by “saving money”, so they voted to reuse old, obsolete technology. (For that matter, NASA may have included Shuttle technology in their proposal precisely because they knew that “saving money” would be popular with those who vote to fund the agency.)
I suppose it’s like the old joke tells us: “A camel is a horse, designed by a committee.” (Comprised of politicians and bureaucrats!)