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NASA’s $4.1b Artemis I could be delayed until October after yet another failed launch


After yet another cancelled launch on Saturday, NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket will not be launched during this launch period, which ends on Tuesday, likely pushing the launch date back to October. 

Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said ‘we will not be launching in this period,’ as the agency is ‘not where we wanted to be.’

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the shuttle was sent back to the Vehicle Assembly Building 20 times before it launched.

‘The cost of two scrubs is a lot less than a failure,’ said Nelson. 

As blastoff won’t be completed by Tuesday, the 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule will have to be removed from the launch pad for required technical inspection in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson issued the ‘no-go’ order on Saturday morning’s failed attempt at T-minus 2:28:53, aborting the Artemis 1 mission for a second time in an embarrassing setback to the program.

The launch scrub in Cape Canaveral, Florida came after several attempts to fix a leak in the rocket’s liquid hydrogen fueling system failed, setting the delicate fueling operation several hours behind schedule. 

 Liquid hydrogen leaks have been a persistent issue in the attempts to launch the SLS, including during ‘wet dress rehearsals’ to practice fully fueling the rocket and counting down to T-minus 10 seconds, but halting the sequence before ignition. 

Despite conducting four such rehearsals since April, NASA ended each rehearsal prematurely, and so far has not conducted a full fueling sequence either in a wet rehearsal or real-world launch attempt. 

Saturday’s planned launch would have marked a major step in humanity’s return to the moon, 50 years after the last Apollo lunar mission, with the Artemis program aiming for crewed flights to lunar orbit as soon as 2024.

The ambitious Artemis program, a NASA partnership with SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Japan, and Canada, eventually aims to establish a lunar base as a stepping stone to interplanetary space missions.

The previous launch bid on Monday was also halted by engineering snags, in a disappointment to dignitaries including Vice President Kamala Harris who had attended to watch the launch.

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion capsule aboard is seen atop the mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B in Cape Canaveral following the scrub of Saturday's launch

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion capsule aboard is seen atop the mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B in Cape Canaveral following the scrub of Saturday’s launch

The countdown clock halted at T-minus 2:28:53 when NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson issued the 'no-go' order cancelling the launch

The countdown clock halted at T-minus 2:28:53 when NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson issued the ‘no-go’ order cancelling the launch

The SLS rocket with Orion crew capsule atop is seen on Saturday morning as teams worked to fuel the massive rocket

The SLS rocket with Orion crew capsule atop is seen on Saturday morning as teams worked to fuel the massive rocket

Shortly after 10am, liquid oxygen fueling to the core stage was complete. Liquid hydrogen fueling (right) fell far behind schedule after three attempts to fix a detected leak failed, ultimately causing the launch to be scrubbed

Shortly after 10am, liquid oxygen fueling to the core stage was complete. Liquid hydrogen fueling (right) fell far behind schedule after three attempts to fix a detected leak failed, ultimately causing the launch to be scrubbed

Before dawn, launch teams had started the lengthy, delicate process of filling the rocket’s core-stage fuel tanks with several hundred thousand gallons of super-cooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant.

Engineers stopped loading liquid hydrogen around 7.30am, roughly an hour into the complex process, to fix a leak detected in the fuel line, at the point where it connects to the core stage. 

Teams first heated up a quick-disconnect junction and reseated it to set a proper seal, but the issue persisted, setting hydrogen fueling at least two hours behind schedule.

Following three separate attempts to fix the leak, which all failed, the engineering team recommended a scrub to the launch director, who made the final decision to abort the launch.  

In Monday’s scrubbed launch, a sensor indicated one of the four engines was too warm, but engineers later verified it actually was cold enough. 

The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor in Saturday’s launch and rely on other instruments to ensure each main engine was properly chilled.

Before igniting, the main engines need to be as frigid as the liquid hydrogen fuel flowing into them at minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, the resulting damage could lead to an abrupt engine shutdown and aborted flight.

The mission sets the Orion capsule on course for a 37-day flight that brings it to within 60 miles of the lunar surface before sailing 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth, for splash down in the Pacific

The mission sets the Orion capsule on course for a 37-day flight that brings it to within 60 miles of the lunar surface before sailing 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth, for splash down in the Pacific

Once the mission goes ahead, the Orion capsule (seen in a rendering) fixed atop the rocket will spend 37 days in space, orbiting the Moon from about 60 miles away

Once the mission goes ahead, the Orion capsule (seen in a rendering) fixed atop the rocket will spend 37 days in space, orbiting the Moon from about 60 miles away

Engineers stopped loading liquid hydrogen around 7.30am, roughly an hour into the complex process, to fix a leak

Engineers stopped loading liquid hydrogen around 7.30am, roughly an hour into the complex process, to fix a leak

Members of the media setup as NASA's Artemis I rocket sits on launch pad 39-B at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday

Members of the media setup as NASA’s Artemis I rocket sits on launch pad 39-B at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday

The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA’s Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. 

The rocket, officially dubbed Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion capsule atop it are in position for launch at Launchpad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

The mission calls for the Orion capsule fixed atop the rocket to spend 37 days in space, orbiting the Moon from about 60 miles away. 

Dubbed Artemis I, the mission marks the first flight for both the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, built under NASA contracts with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, respectively.

It also signals a major change in direction for NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station.

The Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon’s surface as early as 2025, though many experts believe that time frame will likely slip.

Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only spaceflights yet to place humans on the lunar surface. But Apollo, born of the U.S.-Soviet space race during the Cold War, was less science-driven than Artemis.

People wait for the NASA moon rocket to launch on Pad 39B before the Artemis 1 mission was scrubbed on Saturday

People wait for the NASA moon rocket to launch on Pad 39B before the Artemis 1 mission was scrubbed on Saturday

Artemis 1 sits on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida at sunrise on Saturday

Artemis 1 sits on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida at sunrise on Saturday

The SLS rocket for the Artemis program is seen compared to the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo moon program

The SLS rocket for the Artemis program is seen compared to the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo moon program

The new moon program has enlisted commercial partners such as SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada and Japan to eventually establish a long-term lunar base of operations as a stepping stone to even more ambitious human voyages to Mars.

Getting the SLS-Orion spacecraft off the ground is a key first step. Its first voyage is intended to put the 5.75-million-pound vehicle through its paces in a rigorous test flight pushing its design limits and aiming to prove the spacecraft suitable to fly astronauts.

If the mission succeeds, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could come as early as 2024, to be followed within a few more years with the program’s first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.

Billed as the most powerful, complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the biggest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era.

Saturday’s countdown had been planned to end with the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines and its twin solid-rocket boosters igniting to produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust, about 15 percent more than Saturn V, sending the spacecraft streaking skyward.

About 90 minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage would have thrust Orion out of Earth orbit on course for a 37-day flight bringing it to within 60 miles of the lunar surface before sailing 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth. The capsule had been expected to splash down in the Pacific on October 11.

The solid-rocket boosters and core stage will splash down in the ocean after sending the Orion capsule to space

The solid-rocket boosters and core stage will splash down in the ocean after sending the Orion capsule to space

Huge crowds gathered on Monday for the initial launch attempt, which was scrubbed

Huge crowds gathered on Monday for the initial launch attempt, which was scrubbed

The interior of NASA's Orion capsule is seen above. Saturday's mission would have carried three test dummies in the capsule

The interior of NASA’s Orion capsule is seen above. Saturday’s mission would have carried three test dummies in the capsule

Although no humans are aboard, Orion will be carrying a simulated crew of three – one male and two female mannequins – fitted with sensors to measure radiation and other stresses that real-life astronauts would experience.

The spacecraft also is set to release a payload of 10 miniaturized science satellites, called CubeSats, including one designed to map the abundance of ice deposits on the moon’s south pole.

A top objective for the mission is to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield during re-entry as it hits Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 mph, or 32 times the speed of sound, on its return from lunar orbit – much faster than more common re-entries of capsules returning from Earth orbit.

The heat shield is designed to withstand re-entry friction expected to raise temperatures outside the capsule to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than a decade in development with years of delays and budget overruns, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has so far cost NASA least $37 billion. 

NASA’s Office of Inspector General has projected total Artemis costs will run to $93 billion by 2025.

NASA defends the program as a boon to space exploration generating tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in commerce.



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