AFP, published on Sunday, September 04, 2022 at 03:45
The launch of NASA’s new megarocket to the Moon will not be able to be attempted again in early September, after its cancellation at the last moment on Saturday for the second time in a week, a setback that postpones the effective launch of the US program of Return to the Moon, Artemis.
“It’s a whole new vehicle, a whole new technology, a whole new goal: to get back to the Moon to prepare for a trip to Mars, and yes, it’s tough,” NASA chief Bill told a news conference. nelson
After a first failed attempt on Monday due to technical problems, the takeoff of the first Artemis 1 test mission, without an astronaut on board, was scheduled this time for Saturday at 2:17 p.m. local time (6:17 p.m. GMT), from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But NASA teams were unable to resolve a fuel leak problem, which began in the early hours of the morning, during operations to fill the rocket tanks. This leak of ultracold liquid hydrogen was described as “large” by Mike Sarafin, in charge of the mission at NASA.
The “main suspect,” he explained, is a “seal” that surrounds a part that connects the pipe that carries the fuel and the rocket – a component designed to break ultra-fast just as the rocket is fired. off.
The teams believe they have to replace this seal, either directly at the launch pad, or by returning the rocket to its assembly building a few miles away.
Therefore, this work no longer allowed to take off on Tuesday, when the current possible launch period ended, due to the positions of the Earth and the Moon.
– Possibly weeks late –
Another problem: the rocket’s emergency self-destruct system, designed to detonate it in the event of a trajectory deviation after takeoff, must be retested a priori, and can only be tested in the assembly building.
Getting the rocket in and out, however, will take “weeks,” Mike Sarafin said.
The next possible periods for a release are from September 19 to October 4, then from October 17 to 31.
Mr Sarafin felt it was still “too early” to rule out the end of September altogether and promised a progress report next week.
NASA said the early October period would be difficult to coordinate, due to the planned launch at the same time of a crew of astronauts for the International Space Station, also from the Kennedy Space Center.
Be that as it may, the tens of thousands of spectators expected on the coast on Saturday for takeoff will still have to wait to see the show.
The orange and white SLS rocket, which has never flown before, has been in development for more than a decade to become the most powerful in the world.
Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, Artemis 1 should make it possible to verify that the Orion capsule, on top of the rocket, is safe to transport astronauts to the Moon in the future.
For this first mission, Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.
The main objective is to test its heat shield, the largest ever built. On its return to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have to withstand a speed of 40,000 km/h and a temperature half that of the Sun’s surface.
In total, the ship will have to travel about 2.1 million kilometers to land in the Pacific Ocean.
– Moon landing in 2025 –
The complete success of the mission would be a relief for NASA, which originally had a first launch in 2017 for SLS, and will have invested more than 90,000 million dollars in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit.
The name Artemis was chosen for the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, echoing the Apollo program, which sent only white men to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972.
This time, NASA wants to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the Moon.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, in 2025 at the earliest. NASA then wants to launch about one mission per year.
It will then be about building a space station in lunar orbit, called Gateway, and a base on the surface of the Moon.
There, NASA wants to test the technologies needed to send the first humans on a round trip to Mars. Such a trip, which would take several years, could be attempted in the late 2030s.
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