NASA will make the second attempt to launch a rocket around the moon

NASA will make the second attempt to launch a rocket around the moon

NASA will make the second attempt to launch a rocket around the moon

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NASA will make a second attempt to fly its pioneering Artemis 1 moon rocket on Saturday afternoon after the US space agency said it identified and fixed an engine problem that caused the original launch attempt to be postponed five days earlier.

Mission managers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida canceled takeoff on Monday 40 minutes before the end of the countdown when a sensor indicated that one of the four RS-25 engines on the center stage of the mega rocket Space Launch System (SLS) it wasn’t cooling properly.

A review found that the problem was a faulty sensor, not a failure of the cooling system or the engine itself, and the launch team said it will be ignored if a malfunction occurs again when refueling for Saturday’s scheduled attempt at 2:17 PM EDT (7:17 PM BST).

Related: Artemis 1: ‘conditioning problem’ forces the postponement of the rocket launch to NASA

“We are convinced without a shadow of a doubt that we have good quality liquid hydrogen running through the engines,” said John Honeycutt, Artemis program manager, at a pre-launch press conference.

The engines must match the -250 ° C (-420 ° F) temperature of liquid hydrogen at takeoff, otherwise they could be damaged and shut down during the eight-minute ascent to low Earth orbit, he said.

NASA has set a two-hour launch window for the maiden flight of its first human-capable lunar flight in 50 years, the Artemis 1 test mission which includes a next-generation six-person Orion capsule atop SLS. the most powerful rocket ever to leave Earth.

This mission is unmanned. But a successful 38-day flight 40,000 miles (64,000 km) over the moon and back, which will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on October 11, will pave the way for astronauts to be aboard an Artemis II aircraft. in 2024, then the expected next human landing, Artemis III, scheduled for 2025.

Only 12 people, all American men, have ever walked on the moon, the last on Apollo 17 in December 1972. NASA has promised that the Artemis program, named for Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, will include the moon footprints of the first woman and first person of color.

The weather, which would also have thwarted the first launch attempt regardless of the engine sensor issue, looks slightly more favorable for Saturday. A 60% chance of acceptable conditions when the launch window opens rises to 80% when it closes, according to Melody Lovin, meteorological officer of the Space Force’s 45th Wing.

“We could have showers approaching the coast and perhaps a burst of thunder and lightning,” he said.

“This is definitely a threat again, a threat similar to the one we had the other day. [But] I don’t expect time to be a show. “

One of the most unpredictable elements of any rocket launch is weather, and canceled launches at Cape Canaveral, caused by lightning storms, low clouds, precipitation, strong winds, or other violations of strict weather constraints, are not uncommon.

Monday offers an additional backup launch opportunity, a 90-minute window opening at 17:42 EDT (22:42 BST), but beyond that the engineers would seek to return the rocket to the giant vehicle assembly building of the space center for maintenance that could not run on the launchpad.

Bill Nelson, the head of NASA and former space shuttle astronaut, said the entire aircraft, from the propulsion systems to the Orion heat shield, which must withstand temperatures of 2,800 ° C (5,000 ° F) upon reentry, would be subjected to heavy “stress tests” to make sure it was safe for human spaceflight.

Related: The Observer’s Point of View on the Artemis Deep Space Project: $ 93 Billion? Worth every penny | Observer editorial

Ultimately, NASA aims to land humans on Mars around the middle of the next decade, after testing the hardware and systems needed for long-duration spaceflight, including a moon base, during Artemis missions.

“This is an extremely complicated machine and system. Millions of pieces, “Nelson told reporters in Cape Canaveral.” There are, in fact, risks. But are these risks acceptable? I leave it to the experts. My role is to remind them that you do not take risks that are not acceptable. “

The cost of the Artemis program, which is years behind and billions of dollars over budget, also raised eyebrows. It will have reached an estimated $ 93 billion (£ 81 billion) by 2025, with each of the first four launches alone costing an “unsustainable” $ 4.1 billion, according to NASA’s independent inspector general.

According to John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, one of the differences between the Apollo program of the 1970s – whose last three lunar missions were canceled due to cost reasons – and Artemis, who remains fully funded, is the force of political will. .

“For the first time since the Apollo era, two presidents in a row [Donald Trump and Joe Biden] they agreed that this must be done, this is the goal of returning to the moon, “he said.” There is political support that has been lacking before. “

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