The final preparations for NASA’s new megarocket for the Moon were delayed on Saturday, September 3, due to a fuel leak detected a few hours before the launch of this test mission that will launch the new Artemis program, fifty years after the last Apollo. flight.
Liftoff is scheduled for 2:17 pm local time (8:17 pm Paris time) from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and remains possible for the next two hours, if necessary. Weather conditions are 60% favorable at the start of this shooting window, then gradually improve to 80%.
Shortly before 06:00 local time (12:00 noon Paris time), the go-ahead was given to begin filling the rocket’s tanks with its cryogenic fuel — in total, about three million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. ultracold.
But just over an hour later, a leak was detected at the base of the rocket, at the level of the pipe through which the hydrogen passes to the tank. The flow stopped while the teams searched for a solution. NASA did not say how much this issue might or might not affect liftoff time.
On Monday, during a first attempt, the launch was canceled at the last moment due to technical problems, in particular related to engine cooling.
In case of a new impediment for Saturday, the launch of the orange and white SLS rocket, which will be its first flight, could possibly be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday. Then it will be necessary to wait until September 19 at the earliest, due to the positions of the Earth and the Moon.
A springboard for a trip to Mars
The purpose of this unmanned mission, called Artemis-1, is to verify that the Orion capsule on top of the rocket is safe enough to carry astronauts in the future. Thanks to this new ship, the US space agency intends to reconnect with distant human exploration, with the Moon being a thousand times further away than the International Space Station.
Above all, NASA intends this time to establish a lasting human presence there, in order to make it a springboard for a trip to Mars.
In the middle of the long weekend in the United States, up to 400,000 people are expected to admire the launch, especially from the surrounding beaches. Many astronauts also made the trip, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.
There are only a few hours left on Earth for this magnificent machine: the launch window opens at 8:17 pm The weather is fine and… https://t.co/Qfu707foS3
If successful, two minutes after liftoff, the boosters will drop back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main stage will separate in turn. Then, after about an hour and thirty minutes, one last push from the upper stage will put the capsule on its way to the Moon, which will take several days to reach. The trip is expected to last about six weeks in total. Orion will venture up to 40,000 miles behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.
A journey of 2.1 million kilometers
The main purpose of Artemis-1 is to test the capsule’s heat shield, the largest ever built. Upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 km/h, its temperature reaches 2,800°C. In total, the ship will have to travel about 2.1 million kilometers to land in the Pacific Ocean.
The full success of the mission would be a relief to NASA, which originally expected a first launch in 2017 for SLS, and will have invested more than $90 billion in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit. .
The name Artemis was chosen for a female figure, 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 necessary to send the first humans to Mars: new suits, vehicle, possible use of lunar water…
According to NASA chief Bill Nelson, a multi-year round trip to the Red Planet aboard Orion could be attempted in the late 2030s.
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