Artemis 1: NASA will make a second attempt to launch rockets around the moon

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

Mission managers at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center canceled Monday’s liftoff with 40 minutes left on the countdown clock when a sensor indicated that one of the four RS-25 engines on the center stage of the mega Space Launch System (SLS) rocket was not cooling properly. .

A review found the problem to be a faulty sensor, not a failure of the cooling system or the engine itself, and the launch team has said it will be ignored if it malfunctions again during fueling for the scheduled attempt on Saturday at 14:17 EDT (19:17 BST). .

“We’re convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have good quality liquid hydrogen going through the engines,” Artemis program manager John Honeycutt said at a pre-launch news conference.

The engines must match the -250C (-420F) temperature of the liquid hydrogen fuel at liftoff, 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-powered lunar flight in 50 years, the Artemis 1 test mission featuring a next-generation six-person Orion capsule on SLS, the most powerful rocket ever. leave Earth

This mission has no crew. But a successful 38-day flight 40,000 miles (64,000 km) past the moon and back, ending with a splash in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 11, will pave the way for astronauts aboard an Artemis II flyby in 2024, and beyond. the highly anticipated 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 · it in Greek mythology, will include lunar 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 problem, looks a little more favorable for Saturday. A 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions at the opening of the launch window increases to 80 percent as it closes, according to Melody Lovin, weather officer for the Space Force’s 45th Wing.

“We could have some showers approaching the coast and maybe a burst of thunder and lightning with that,” he said.

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

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

Monday offers another safety launch opportunity, a 90-minute window that opens at 17:42 EDT (22:42 BST), but beyond that, engineers will look to push the rocket back space center giant vehicle assembly building for maintenance that could not. will be performed on the launch pad.

Bill Nelson, the head of NASA and a former space shuttle astronaut, said the entire spacecraft, from the propulsion systems to Orion’s heat shield, which must withstand temperatures of 2,800C (5,000F) upon re-entry, it would be highly “stress tested” to ensure it was safe for human spaceflight.

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

“This is an extremely complicated machine and system. Millions of parts,” Nelson told reporters in Cape Canaveral. “In fact, there are risks. But are these risks acceptable? I leave that to the experts. My role is to remind them that you are not taking any risk that is not an acceptable risk.”

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

One of the differences between the 1970s Apollo program – the last three lunar missions of which were canceled for cost reasons – and Artemis, which remains fully funded, is political will, according to John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. .

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

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