NASA had to postpone for the second time the launch of the Artemis 1 mission, the maiden test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion capsule, intended to return humans to the Moon. The space agency is currently evaluating the next steps.
The countdown progressed as planned early this Saturday morning (3) until the refueling authorization. The process involves supplying the vehicle with liquid oxygen first, then liquid hydrogen, the two being combined in engines to promote combustion and propel the vehicle.
However, during the hydrogen supply procedure, a new leak was detected, this time at a different location from that identified and circumvented during the previous launch attempt, carried out last Monday (29).
Now the leak was bigger and apparently came from the quick disconnect device that connects the hydrogen supply hose to the first stage of the rocket.
Engineers tried to solve the problem remotely, increasing the temperature of the system to see if, after cooling, the seal would be perfect again. Didn’t work. An attempt was also made to add pressure with helium, inert, equally ineffective.
The leak compromising the supply of the vehicle, the teams decide to recommend the postponement of the launch attempt, a decision then taken by the flight director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, at 12:17 (three hours exactly before the opening of the attempted window ).
Delays of this nature are not uncommon, especially with a new rocket on its first flight. And there’s a lot at stake for the US space agency if it fails, having invested $23.8 billion over the past 11 years to develop the SLS.
Saturday afternoon, the mission management team will assess the situation, but there is already talk of returning the rocket and the capsule to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), the huge and emblematic hangar which is near the platforms. – NASA forms 39A and 39B. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
That would be the bitterest alternative, as a return to the assembly building would push another launch attempt to “mid-October”, according to agency administrator Bill Nelson.
If the team feels confident to make another launch attempt without removing the rocket from platform 39B, they will likely have to do so on Monday (5) or Tuesday (6). After this date, return to the building is mandatory, due to the batteries that power the rocket’s remote destruction system, which must be recharged and recertified.
Artemis 1 is the first mission of the planned manned return to the Moon. This inaugural test flight will be unmanned, and the idea is that its success will pave the way for the Artemis 2 (2024) and 3 (2026) missions, which will bring humans to the vicinity and surface of the Moon for the first time. times this century, respectively. . The last time astronauts walked on the lunar surface was in December 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission.
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