The Artemis I mission is facing a delay of several weeks after its launch was cancelled

NASA’s Next Generation Moon Rocket, Space Launch System (SLS) with Orion crew capsule placed on top (Reuters)

they may pass several weeks Before NASA tries to launch its huge lunar rocket space launch system After failing to fix what agency officials described as a large, uncontrollable hydrogen leak forced them to cancel a second flight on Saturday.

Agency officials said they believe They may have to take the missile back to the assembly building for repair After two failed attempts to launch it on the first test flight that would take the unmanned Orion spacecraft to the moon.

Follow the decision Another day of disappointment for the space agencywhich had hoped to finally launch the rocket after years of delays and setbacks and mark an important milestone for astronauts’ return to the moon’s surface.

Alternatively, the next launch attempt may be in October, while NASA struggles to understand the complex and volatile beast that is the rocket and its unstable thrust.

Although NASA officials say failures are a normal part of spaceflight, especially when it comes to a new rocket, NASA’s failure to launch its flagship rocket is sure to renew criticism from some, who see it as a symbol of government mismanagement, influenced by political whims. It relies on outdated technology.

The countdown continued as technicians worked on trying to fix the fuel leak (Reuters)
The countdown continued as technicians worked on trying to fix the fuel leak (Reuters)

A missile that is billions of dollars out of budget and years behind scheduleAccording to some estimates, each launch will cost between 2000 and 4000 million dollars. When creating the rocket, Congress ordered the recycling of engines and technology from the Space Shuttle program, which first flew in 1981 and was developed in the 1970s.

Unlike the rockets that SpaceX uses to launch astronauts to the International Space Station, which return to Earth for further use, the Space Launch System is not reusable.

Officials hope that bringing the rocket to the platform for its first launch will be a statement that NASA has revived its deep space ambitions. But instead of celebrating a triumphant flight that put it on its way to the moon, NASA officials spent most of Saturday morning trying to fix a leak of volatile liquid hydrogen used as rocket fuel.

Hydrogen, the lightest of the elements, remains in liquid form at temperatures below 217 degrees Celsius, and NASA has had trouble loading it into rocket tanks without leaking.

NASA had a similar problem during Monday’s launch attempt, but eventually managed to overcome it. However, on Saturday, the engineers started loading the hydrogen, but stopped at 7:15 AM, then came back again, but had to stop at 9 AM. The leak started again. They tried heating the line and then using helium to pressurize it, but neither worked.

The second attempt to heat the streak also didn’t work.

At 11:17 a.m., three hours before the launch window opened, NASA ordered it shut down. The leak inside was bigger than what they found on Mondaysaid Mike Sarfin, Director of the Artemis Program. “Monday’s leak was a manageable leak,” he said. “This was not a manageable leakOne of the hydrogen lines was unintentionally overpressure, he said, but it was not clear what caused the leak or exactly why the overpressure occurred.

(Reuters)
(Reuters)

Officials said they were considering if they could fix the leak on the launch pad and then test it there by flowing liquid hydrogen through it — a test they wouldn’t be able to do if the rocket was returned to the assembly building. If the repair could not be done on the platform, they would have to take it back to the assembly building and make repairs there, but they weren’t sure that the problem was fixed until another attempt.

In both cases, engineers will have to reset the missile’s emergency flight termination system, which destroys it if it deviates from its course during launch. This work can only be done in the assembly building.

Whether due to technical reasons or bad weather, Delays are nothing new in the space program. On Saturday, officials said that of the 135 space shuttle launches, 121 have been canceled at least once. In 20 cases, the spacecraft was returned to the assembly building.

On Saturday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised the SLS launch team, saying the agency would be cautious and not rush to launch until all systems are up and running.

“We’re not going until then and especially now on a test flight,” Nelson said. NASA “will make sure he’s okay before putting four humans on it.” He said the delays were “part of the space business.” He noted that scrubs are much less expensive than flipping.

As a member of Congress, Nelson flew on the space shuttle in 1986, but experienced frequent delays. He said: “We deviated four times.” “We are over a month late. . . This is part of our space program: Get ready to scrub“.

When an astronaut was getting ready to fly on the space shuttle, Pam Melroy, now NASA’s deputy administrator, used to tell her friends and family to plan a week’s vacation on the Florida space coast and “maybe to watch a launch.”

The Artemis I mission, as it’s called, has no astronauts on board and is a test to make sure the rocket and spacecraft are safe for humans to travel on. If NASA is able to complete Artemis I, the next flight will put four astronauts on a flight around the moon, possibly in 2024. A human landing on the moon could come in 2025 or 2026.

But, as Saturday’s setback shows, NASA still has many technical challenges to overcome. NASA is being particularly careful with its SLS rocket. Its development cost about $23 billion, and the space agency hopes will serve as the backbone of the Artemis program, designed to return astronauts to the Moon.

Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager, told reporters this week that there are about 500 launch criteria that must be met and that any number of things could force the space agency to step back and try another day.

“There is no guarantee that we will take off,” he said. “But we will show, we will try and we will do our best.“.

Saturday’s shutdown came on the heels of Monday, when engineers said they were unable to get one of the four engines installed on the booster stage to the correct temperature needed for launch. After stopping and investigating the problem, they decided that a faulty sensor was to blame, and kept trying again on Saturday.

Last year, NASA successfully loaded the rocket with more than 730,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and test-fired RS-25 engines during its eight-minute time. But since then he has not been able to repeat this success.

Earlier this year, in a series of refueling tests, I ran into all kinds of problems that prevented the space agency from running a fully simulated countdown.

Despite these problems, NASA officials said they felt confident enough to embark on the launch attempt. The attempts were additional fuel tests.

Victor Glover, a NASA astronaut who could be part of one of the crew selected for the Artemis lunar mission, said flight controllers should be commended for their decision to cancel the launch, especially given the broad public interest it has received.

It’s hard to make such a decision,” he said. “We may be angry about the hydrogen leak, but cancellation is absolutely the right decision, and helps build trust.”

© The Washington Post 2022

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