NASA cancels another Artemis lunar rocket launch attempt, citing fuel leak


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CAPE CANAVERAL — For the second time in five days, NASA on Saturday paused an ongoing countdown and postponed a planned attempt to launch the first test flight of its giant next-generation rocket, the first mission of the lune-à-Mars agency Artemis program.

The latest attempt to launch the 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion capsule has been scrubbed after repeated failed attempts by technicians to repair a leaking supercooled liquid hydrogen propellant pumped into the rocket’s fuel middle floor of the vehicle. reservoirs.

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Pre-flight operations were officially canceled for the day by Artemis I Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson approximately three hours before the targeted two-hour launch window opened at 2:17 p.m. EDT (18 h 17 GMT).

There was no immediate word on a time frame to try again to launch the mission, dubbed Artemis I. But NASA could schedule another attempt for Monday or Tuesday.

NASA chief Bill Nelson said mission officials would meet later on Saturday to discuss a future launch opportunity, adding there was a chance the rocket could be returned to its building from assembly for further troubleshooting and repairs.

If that happens, the next launch attempt would be delayed until October, he said in a NASA webcast interview.

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In a separate statement announcing the scrub, NASA said, “Engineers continue to collect additional data.”

A first test launch on Monday was foiled by 11-hour technical issues that surfaced during the countdown, including a leaky fuel line, a faulty temperature sensor and cracks in the foam insulation. NASA officials said these issues have already been resolved to their satisfaction.

Launch-day delays and technical issues are not uncommon for new rockets such as NASA’s Space Launch System, a complex rocket with a set of pre-launch procedures that have yet to be fully tested. and repeated by engineers without a hitch.

“It’s part of our space program – get ready for the scrubs,” Nelson said on NASA TV.

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Taxiing the spacecraft to its assembly building would apparently be necessary if engineers think the hydrogen leak is too difficult to repair on the pad. But NASA officials have yet to make that call.

MOON TO MARS

The SLS-Orion’s maiden voyage would kick off NASA’s Mars Artemis lunar program, the successor to the Apollo lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

The trip is meant to put the 5.75 million pound vehicle through its paces in a rigorous demonstration flight, pushing its design limits, before NASA deems it reliable enough to carry astronauts on a flight. scheduled for 2024.

Billed as the most powerful and complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Saturn V rocket piloted during Apollo, which was born out of the US space race -Cold War Soviet. time.

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If the first two Artemis missions are successful, NASA aims to land astronauts on the Moon, including the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface, as soon as 2025. Many experts, however, believe that this deadline may pass. a few years.

The last humans to walk on the moon were the two-man Apollo 17 descent team in 1972, following in the footsteps of 10 other astronauts on five previous missions beginning with Apollo 11 in 1969.

The Artemis program aims to eventually establish a long-term lunar base as a stepping stone to even more ambitious astronaut journeys to Mars, a goal that NASA officials say will likely take at least until the end of the years. 2030.

The program was named after the goddess who was the twin sister of Apollo in ancient Greek mythology.

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SLS has been in development for over a decade, with years of delays and cost overruns. But the Artemis program has also generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of trade dollars under major contractors Boeing Co for SLS and Lockheed Martin Corp for Orion.

Although no humans are on board, Orion will carry a simulated crew of three – one male and two female mannequins – equipped with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that real astronauts would experience.

The spacecraft is also expected to release a payload of 10 miniaturized science satellites, called CubeSats, including one designed to map the abundance of ice deposits on the moon’s south pole.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Frances Kerry and Chizu Nomiyama)

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