NASA postpones debut Artemis test flight of new moon rocket after engine snag

Date:

  • Explosion in Florida was targeted for Monday
  • Artemis program aims to bring humans back to the moon, perhaps by 2025
  • Program is successor to Apollo moon missions 50 years ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Aug. 29 (Reuters) – An engine cooling problem forced NASA Monday to delay the first test launch of the hulking new rocket ship it plans to use for future astronaut flights back to the moon by at least four days . more than 50 years after Apollo’s last moon mission.

The problem surfaced when fuel tanks of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket were filled with supercooled liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellant, and launch teams began a “conditioning” process to cool the engines enough for launch, NASA said.

But one of the four main engines didn’t cool down as expected, prompting the launch team managers to pause the countdown.

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The launch was called off at 8:35 a.m. EDT (1235 GMT), two minutes after its target launch time, while the 32-story rocket and its Orion capsule awaited launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The mission, dubbed Artemis I, requires a six-week, unmanned test flight from Orion around the moon and back to Earth for a landing in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA did not give a new launch date for the two-stage rocket, but said the first available opportunity was Friday, Sept. 2.

Whether the agency sticks to that date depends on how quickly technicians can fix the engine problem. The next launch opportunity is Monday, September 5.

Delays of launches until the end of the hour are routine in the space industry, and Monday was no indication of a major setback for NASA or its prime contractors, Boeing Co (BA.N) for SLS and Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) for Orion. .

“We’re not launching until it’s right,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in a webcast interview just after the launch was scrubbed. “It’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work. And you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.”

Still, the delay disappointed thousands of spectators who had gathered on the shores around Cape Canaveral, binoculars in hand.

Vice President Kamala Harris had just arrived at the space center and joined a crowd of dignitaries and invited guests attending the event shortly before the scrub was called.

The maiden voyage of the SLS-Orion rocket marks the start of NASA’s highly vaunted Moon-to-Mars Artemis program, the successor to the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

The trip aims to put the 5.75 million pound vehicle to the test in a rigorous demonstration flight, pushing design boundaries, before NASA deems it reliable enough to carry astronauts on a next flight scheduled for 2024.

Monday’s spectacular technical problem was announced weeks ago during NASA’s pre-launch “wet-dress rehearsal” testing of the SLS, when a problem with a hydrogen fuel line on the rocket forced engineers to forgo a full engine conditioning test.

NASA officials eventually decided to proceed with final launch preparations and essentially postpone the test they could not have performed until the actual countdown, acknowledging that this strategy could ultimately lead to a launch delay. as happened Monday.

FIVE DECADES SINCE PEOPLE LAST ON MOON

Billed as the world’s most powerful, most complex rocket, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Saturn V rocket flown during Apollo, which emerged from the Cold War US-Soviet space race. era.

If the first two Artemis missions succeed, NASA aims to land astronauts back on the moon as early as 2025, including the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface, although many experts believe the time frame will likely decrease by several times. year.

The last humans to walk on the moon were the two-man descent team from Apollo 17 in 1972, following in the footsteps of 10 other astronauts on five previous missions, starting 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 trips to Mars, a goal that NASA officials say will likely last until at least the end of the 2030s.

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

SLS has been in development for over a decade, with years of delays and cost overruns. But the Artemis program has also created tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in commerce.

One issue cited by NASA officials last week as a potential showstopper for Monday’s launch was any sign during the rocket’s refueling that a newly repaired hydrogen pipe fitting had failed. NASA officials said Sunday they were also monitoring a possible, but small, helium leak in launch pad equipment.

While there will be no people 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.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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