Science

Nasa to try launching Artemis 1 mission again on Saturday


Nasa will make a second attempt at launching its Space Launch System moon rocket this Saturday, the agency has said, five days after technical issues foiled 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 issues.

Engineers at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, discovered problems with one of the rocket Artemis 1’s engines and were unable to fix it in time for a the scheduled launch window. Mike Sarafin, Nasa’s Artemis mission manager, said on Monday that poor weather also played a factor.

Managers said on Tuesday that they are changing fueling procedures to deal with the issue. A bad sensor also could be to blame for Monday’s scrapped launch, they noted.

Proceeding toward a Saturday launch will offer additional insights, even if the problem reappears and the countdown is halted again, said Nasa’s rocket program manager, John Honeycutt. That’s better “than us sitting around scratching our heads, was it good enough or not”.

“Based on what I’ve heard from the technical team today, what we need to do is continue to pore over the data and polish up our plan on putting the flight rationale together,” he said.

The 322ft (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by Nasa, remains on 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. No one will be aboard, 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 core stage could not be chilled sufficiently prior to the planned ignition at liftoff. It appeared to be as much as 40F (22C) warmer than the desired -420F (-250C), the temperature of the hydrogen fuel, according to Honeycutt. The three other engines came up just a little short.

All of the engines appear to be fine, according to Honeycutt.

The chilling operation will be conducted a half-hour earlier for Saturday afternoon’s launch attempt, once fueling begins that morning. Honeycutt said the timing of this engine chilldown was earlier during successful testing last year, and so performing it sooner may do the trick.

Honeycutt also questioned the integrity of one engine sensor, saying it might have provided inaccurate data Monday. To change that sensor, he noted, would mean hauling the rocket back into the hangar, resulting in weeks of delay.

Already years behind schedule, the $4.1bn test flight is the opening shot in Nasa’s Artemis moon-exploration program, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Astronauts could strap in as soon as 2024 for a lap around 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 enthusiasm as humanity attempts its first return to the moon since the 1970s.

The effort is expected to cost US taxpayers up $93bn, but Nasa officials have said Americans would find the cost to be justified.

“This is now the Artemis generation,” the 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 type of astronaut.”



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