NASA will make a second launch attempt of its Space Launch System moon rocket this Saturday, the agency said, five days after technical problems thwarted an initial attempt.
The US space agency made the decision on Monday to delay its first attempt to launch a rocket capable of putting astronauts on the moon in 50 years due to engine problems.
Engineers at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, discovered problems with one of the engines on the Artemis 1 rocket and were unable to fix it in time for the scheduled launch window. Mike Sarafin, manager of NASA’s Artemis mission, said Monday that bad weather also played a role.
Managers said Tuesday they are changing feeding procedures to address the problem. A bad sensor could also be to blame for Monday’s aborted launch, they noted.
Proceeding toward Saturday’s launch will provide additional information, even if the problem reappears and the countdown stops again, NASA rocket program director John Honeycutt said. That’s better “than sitting around scratching our heads, was it good enough or not.”
“From what I heard today from the technical team, what we need to do is continue to analyze the data and refine our plan to put together the justification for the flight,” he said.
The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, remains in its pad at Kennedy Space Center with an empty crew capsule on top.
The Space Launch System rocket will attempt to send the capsule around the moon and back. There will be no one on board, just three test dummies. If successful, it will be the first capsule to fly to the Moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago.
During Monday’s launch attempt, readings showed that one of the four main engines in the rocket’s center stage could not be sufficiently cooled before the planned ignition at liftoff. According to Honeycutt, it appeared to be up to 40 F (22 C) warmer than the desired -420 F (-250 C), the hydrogen fuel temperature. The other three engines fell a bit short.
All engines appear to be fine, according to Honeycutt.
The cooling operation will take place half an hour earlier for the launch attempt on Saturday afternoon, once fueling begins that morning. Honeycutt said the timing of this engine cooling was earlier during successful testing last year, so doing it earlier may do the trick.
Honeycutt also questioned the integrity of an engine sensor, saying it may have provided inaccurate data on Monday. Changing that sensor, he noted, would mean taking the rocket back to the hangar, which would mean weeks of delay.
Already years behind schedule, the $4.1 billion test flight is the first plan for NASA’s Artemis moon exploration program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology. Astronauts could set off as early as 2024 to orbit the moon and actually attempt a lunar landing in 2025.
Crowds had flocked to Florida on Monday to watch the launch only to be disappointed. The mission has sparked excitement as humanity attempts its first return to the Moon since the 1970s.
The effort is expected to cost American taxpayers $93 billion, but NASA officials have said Americans will find the cost justified.
“This is now the Artemis generation,” NASA administrator and former space shuttle astronaut Bill Nelson said recently. “We were in the Apollo generation. This is a new generation. This is a new kind of astronaut.”
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