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NASA’s massive New Moon rocket hit another snag during its latest attempt to launch an uncrewed test mission, and it will be at least a few weeks, rather than days, before the rocket can make its next attempt.
The longer delay can be attributed to several factors, including scheduling quirks, potential launch site traffic, and NASA’s desire to make sure the latest issues with fuel leaks are resolved.
To summarize what happened on Saturday, September 3: Launch officials confidently participated in this weekend’s attempt to launch the rocket, called the Space Launch System, or SLS. But then, as the rocket was being loaded once again with super-cold liquid hydrogen propellant, a huge leak occurred. and NASA said Tuesday that it will begin trying to correct those problems while the rocket is still on the launch pad.
But eventually, the space agency will still need to roll the rocket back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4.2-mile trip that takes about 10 hours, to “reset the system’s batteries,” according to a Tuesday. blog post NASA
And when it comes to setting a new release date, timing will be tricky.
On any given day, there are specific time slots, or “launch windows,” set aside when rocket launches are allowed, and they can range from half an hour to a few hours per day. But even those windows are not available every day. There’s also “release periods”, which are periods of days in which the Moon aligns with the Earth in a favorable way for this mission.
The latest launch period ended on Tuesday, September 6, and NASA had said there was no way the SLS would be ready to fly during that time.
The next release period is from September 19 to October 4. But there is another potential problem: NASA plans launch your Crew-5 missionthat will carry a new crew of astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket on October 3. And NASA will have to work to make sure one launch doesn’t conflict with another.
Later in October, another launch period will begin, from October 17 to 31. That period will offer up to 11 possible launch windows for the SLS. (Note: there is no release times available on October 24, 25, 26 and 28.)
Exactly what period and window of NASA’s targets will depend on a variety of factors, including how well it can coordinate with SpaceX regarding the Crew-5 launch and how long the SLS rocket remains on the launch pad while engineers work out the issue. leak problem, according to Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development.
When the SLS rocket is full of fuel, it requires massive amounts of supercooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the rocket’s tanks. When charging the hydrogen, the fuel begins to pump slowly but then increases in speed in what is called a “fast fill”. And it was during that rapid fill that a “big leak” occurred, even bigger than the leaks NASA identified during the August 29 launch attempt.
That’s why launch officials want to make sure they find a solution and the root of the problem before making the next attempt. Until Saturday, it was assumed that a problem with a valve could have caused the hydrogen to be over-pressurized, putting it under 60 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of the expected 20 pounds per square inch, Michael Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager, said. Saturday.
Prior to Saturday, NASA had also attempted to fix various problems it encountered during the first SLS rocket launch attempt August 29th. He addressed some leaks that occurred during fueling and assessed the risks of a problem with an engine cooling system and a crack in some foam lining one of the rocket’s tanks.
NASA may choose to take another look at those issues as it works toward the next launch attempt as well.
Further complicating the selection of the next target release date is Florida’s precarious weather. For any rocket launch, high winds, lightning or other unfavorable conditions can cause further delays. Late summer and early fall can also bring hurricanes to the Florida coast, where the SLS is located.
NASA is looking into the possibilities, and the public can expect more answers in the coming days and weeks.
As NASA officials have said before, they hope to convey that these delays and technical issues don’t necessarily point to a major problem with the rocket.
Before SLS, NASA’s space shuttle program, which flew for 20 years, endured frequent aborted launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history of scrubs due to mechanical or technical problems.
This is, after all, rocket science.
“I can tell you that these teams know exactly what they are doing and I am very proud of them,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Saturday. “We tried to emphasize that this is a test and a test has some risk, and we hit it in every public comment we had to bring expectations in line with reality.”
Free, the NASA associate administrator, added that his team will always make an optimistic launch attempt that liftoff will occur.
“I’m sure there will be a question of ‘Are we sure?'” he said. “I actually love that question because it’s like (asking), ‘Are you sure you’d get out of bed this morning?’
This mission, called Artemis I, is expected to pave the way for many other missions to the Moon. The Artemis II mission, scheduled for next year, is expected to follow a similar flight path around the moon, but will have a crew on board. And later this decade, Artemis III is expected to carry astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since NASA’s Apollo program in the mid-20th century.