Artemis launchpad upgrade complete, ready for Artemis II

New liquid hydrogen tank installed in the shadow of Pad 39B is 1 upgrade

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA is now a major step closer to launching its next Artemis moon mission – the one with astronauts on board.

News 6 showed you in December how far the Kennedy Space Center had come in upgrading the launchpad and the strict deadline it was on to launch Artemis II before the end of 2024.

On Monday, News 6 went back to see the results.

The new liquid hydrogen tank installed in the shadow of Pad 39B is now connected and complete. The older, smaller sphere could only hold 800,000 gallons of LH2 which was enough to fuel the Space Launch System (SLS) one time for one launch attempt.

The new sphere holds 1.4 million gallons of LH2 to allow as many as three Artemis launch attempts in a row without waiting for refueling trucks to arrive and refill the tanks, which takes days.

The upgraded environmental control system, basically the A/C supplier and humidity controller for the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule while they sit on the launchpad, is now done.

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And the new version of the old astronaut zipline escape system, known as the Emergency Egress Slidewire, used for the Space Shuttle and Apollo missions, is finished.

Artemis astronauts will be able to hop in a metal basket attached to a thick steel cable and sail away from the launch tower if everything goes wrong – and if they have time. They’ll bail out onto a brightly-painted carpet at a concrete base station far from the launchpad where an armored car will be waiting to whisk them to safety.

Jose Perez Morales, senior project manager for KSC’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), is responsible for all of the Artemis mission infrastructure upgrades to Launchpad 39B and the Vehicle Assembly Building where the SLS is assembled vertically (stacked).

Morales has been held to a strict deadline because the Artemis II mission cannot move forward until his job is done. The SLS mega-rocket rocket and the Orion capsule, together known as the Artemis moon rocket, cannot be stacked onto the Mobile Launcher (ML) until Morales’ upgrades are complete because they must first be tested with the Mobile Launcher empty.

The ML must be rolled out to 39B without the SLS to attach the Egress System cables to tension them and test them with the baskets in place.

“Well, it takes a lot more time because once you put the Mobile Launcher there, you have to make sure it’s [the egress system] secure, then you start having to drag the cables from the boxes all the way to the Mobile Launcher.”

That extra time will be built into future launch countdowns.

Morales said the cables will be attached by first dropping a lighter-weight rope from the top of the ML and then stringing it to the concrete base station. Connecting the cable to the rope is next.

“This system [the new emergency egress zipline] was custom-made for NASA,” Morales said. “It takes a lot of engineering, testing, modeling. It’s some of our brightest guys working for us.”

Just to build the Emergency Egress concrete base station cost $10 million dollars, Morales said. Over the last 10 years, EGS has spent more than $6 billion on the rocket infrastructure upgrades at the launchpad at VAB. That does not include the cost to build or launch the Artemis rocket itself.

Besides the upgrades to the pad, Morales had to make unexpected repairs, adding another challenge to making his deadline.

When Artemis I finally lifted off last November, the monstrous rocket’s extreme heat “came a lot farther than what we thought it was going to be.”

The heat melted some cooling tower fan fins and blew off the elevator doors on the Mobile Launch Tower. Both will be repaired by next week when the ML is scheduled to be rolled out to the top of 39B empty, and for testing.

Morales said the ML would have rolled out for testing several months sooner, but he was forced to delay upgrade work because of the multiple Artemis I scrubbed launch attempts over several months late last year. During those launch attempts no one could work on or near the pad.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.