NASA is now targeting Saturday for the launch of its Artemis I mission, which looks to put an uncrewed spacecraft in orbit around the moon, after Monday’s planned launch was scrubbed.
The U.S. space agency was forced to cancel that launch due to a problem with one of its rocket engines.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and uncrewed Orion orbiter are part of NASA’s planned return to the moon, called the Artemis program. This mission, Artemis I, will see the Orion spacecraft orbit the moon for a 42-day mission.
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NASA is trying to figure exactly what went wrong with its Artemis 1 rocket after scrapping Monday’s planned launch over a heating issue with one of the engines. The next available window to try again is Friday, if they can get the rocket ready in time.
Artemis II is expected sometime in 2024 or 2025. Four astronauts — including a Canadian — will orbit the moon. And then finally, Artemis III — which will likely happen some time in the 2030s — will return humans to the lunar surface.
NASA hit several snags on Monday, and weren’t able to resolve them all.
First it had to delay loading the rocket’s propellant of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen due to nearby lightning.
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Once the storms cleared, the propellant was not loading at the appropriate rate.
Then there was a helium leak — a problem experienced during the several “wet dress” rehearsals, a sort of mock launch during which technicians go through all the necessary steps and stop just before liftoff.
When everything looked to be clear — the main tank had loaded with propellant, and the secondary stage had as well — there was an issue with one of the four rocket engines. Engine No. 3 did not reach the proper temperature range necessary for liftoff, and the team ran out of time to fix it.
Launch weather officer Marc Berger says the weather expected on Saturday will be different from that of the previous week, when the area had several thunderstorms.
A sea breeze is expected to push inland, but that means there is a chance of thunderstorms and precipitation.
The SLS can not launch during any precipitation.
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Berger said he remains optimistic that there may be some clear weather during the launch window.
If the launch is scrubbed due to weather, Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said they could try again within 48 hours.
Saturday’s two-hour launch window opens at 2:17 p.m. ET.