CAPSTONE Spacecraft Arrives at Launch Site in New Zealand

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, spacecraft safely arrived at the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand ahead of its launch. The launch window opens May 31 and extends through June 22. Rocket Lab completed the launch rehearsal, and with the spacecraft now at the launch site, will begin payload integration with the Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft bus.

Electron launch vehicle on the pad at Launch Complex 1 for wet dress rehearsal
Electron launch vehicle on the pad at Launch Complex 1 for wet dress rehearsal ahead of the CAPSTONE launch for NASA and Advanced Space. Image credit: Rocket Lab.

Work Continues to Return Artemis I Moon Rocket Back to Launch Pad for Next Test

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue to work on the main tasks needed to prepare the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to return to launch pad 39B for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.

After re-tightening the flange bolts on the tail service mast umbilical lines to address a hydrogen leak identified during the previous wet dress rehearsal, engineers determined the seals on the bolts are no longer relaxing, and the system should remain tightly sealed during propellant loading. As a precaution, teams also moved the location of a heavy cantilevered filter on the tail service mast umbilical, which filters out any contaminants in the gaseous helium – a purge gas – that travels through the drain assist purge line. Engineers did not identify any leaks at its previous location, but relocating the filter will ensure it does not contribute to future leaks. Engineers conducted additional leak checks and have not detected any leaks at ambient air temperature.

Additionally, after replacing the helium check valve on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), engineers found a damaged rubber O-ring seal in the flight side of the quick disconnect – the area that separates the ICPS from the mobile launcher during launch. The O-ring came loose and entered the valve, preventing the valve from sealing correctly. Teams removed the flight and ground side of the quick disconnect system and replaced support hardware that was downstream of the check valve. Work is underway to determine the root cause to prevent any recurrences. Next, teams will re-pressurize the system and test the replaced hardware on the upper stage.

The supplier for gaseous nitrogen completed upgrades to its facility to meet the requirements for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt. Engineers will test the system next week to ensure it’s ready to support tanking operations. During wet dress rehearsal and launch, teams pump gaseous nitrogen into dry structures to protect avionics during propellant loading.

Teams also completed additional work needed, such as inspecting the Orion spacecraft for water damage that may have occurred during a heavy thunderstorm at the spaceport during the initial wet dress rehearsal attempt. Teams determined there was no damage to the systems inside the capsule and continue with inspections and wrapping up other work before retracting the platforms inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to prepare to roll SLS and Orion back to the launch pad. NASA will announce dates for rolling out to the pad and the next wet dress rehearsal attempt once work inside the VAB and testing of the nitrogen system are nearing completion.

CAPSTONE Spacecraft Launch Targeted No Earlier Than May 31

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are currently targeting no earlier than May 31, 2022, for the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission. We will continually evaluate the date for the first target launch attempt within the launch period, which extends to June 22.

CAPSTONE Spacecraft Ships to Launch Site

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, spacecraft which will chart a new path for NASA’s Moon-orbiting space station Gateway, just started its journey. On May 9, it shipped from Terran Orbital Corporation in Irvine, California, to its launch site at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand.

CAPSTONE is expected to arrive at the Mahia Launch Complex in the next few days in preparation for a launch no earlier than May 2022. It will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket using a Lunar Photon satellite upper stage to send the spacecraft into a never-been-tested near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon.

Artemis I Rocket, Spacecraft Prepare for Return to Launch Pad to Finish Test

Since returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), ground systems teams have worked to prepare the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to roll back to Launch Pad 39B in late May to complete the wet dress rehearsal test in the early to mid-June timeframe.

Inside the VAB at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, engineers replaced a faulty helium check valve on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that was identified after the second wet dress rehearsal attempt. Engineers have inspected the valve and found a small piece of rubber that prevented the valve from sealing correctly. Teams are looking at possible sources of the debris, but did not see any issues with the valve itself, and plan to test the newly installed valve later this week to confirm it is operating as expected.

Engineers also performed tests to address a hydrogen leak on one of two tail service mast umbilicals between the mobile launcher and the rocket. These umbilicals provide liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, as well as electrical connections, from the mobile launcher to the rocket’s core stage during the launch countdown. Teams conducted leak checks on all the joints and tightened several flange bolts, or fasteners that act as a washer to increase the compression strength, that can loosen over time and were the most likely source of the leak. Teams re-tightened the flange bolts on the liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, and core stage intertank umbilicals. Engineers have not detected leaks in subsequent testing at ambient air temperature, and will continue to monitor for leaks when loading the super cold propellants at the launch pad.

The supplier that provides gaseous nitrogen for operations during tanking is upgrading its facility to meet the requirements for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt and the Artemis I launch. Teams are on track to complete the work early next week, followed by testing to ensure the system is ready for tanking. During the test, teams pump gaseous nitrogen into dry structures to protect avionics during propellant loading.

Once all major work is completed, teams will retract the working platforms and prepare the integrated SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft for the second journey to the launch pad. NASA will announce dates for roll to the pad and the next wet dress rehearsal attempt once work is nearing completion inside the VAB.