NASA could try again in late September to launch the Artemis moon mission: NPR

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft on board can be seen atop the mobile launch vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Saturday before the scheduled launch was scrubbed due to fuel leaks.

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NASA’s Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft on board can be seen atop the mobile launch vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Saturday before the scheduled launch was scrubbed due to fuel leaks.

NASA/Getty Images

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA has postponed any new launch attempt for the Artemis lunar mission until at least Sept. 19 after scrapping a scheduled Saturday launch.

The decision on Saturday morning marked the second time in a week that the launch had been delayed.

Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson’s official scrub announcement came around 11:19 a.m. ET after several failed attempts to stop a liquid hydrogen fuel leak.

Officials announced Saturday afternoon that they would not attempt another launch during the current launch window, which ends on Tuesday. Instead, they said they could try for another launch at the end of September at the earliest.

“We don’t launch until we think it’s right,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

The space agency’s first attempt to launch this rocket had to be sunk Monday morning after a sensor indicated that one of the rocket’s four motors did not appear to be cooling to the proper temperature of about -420 degrees Fahrenheit.

After studying the issue and troubleshooting, officials said it’s clear the engine was okay and a sensor was giving an incorrect temperature reading. “We know we had a bad sensor,” said John Honeycutt, program manager for this rocket at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Then on Saturday, as crews worked to fuel the rocket, they repeatedly discovered a liquid hydrogen leak that forced them to stop several times and begin the refueling process.

NASA made three failed attempts to fix the leak before falling so far behind schedule that Blackwell-Thompson ultimately canceled the launch.

Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said Saturday afternoon that the hydrogen transport pipeline was inadvertently overpressured, but suggested it was too early to say whether that was the cause of the leak.

Officials said they would have to roll the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building unless they could get a waiver to stay on the launch pad until the next attempt.

It wasn’t the first time hydrogen leaks have hampered efforts to fuel this rocket. Similar copies appeared during dress rehearsals and the first attempt at launch, although officials described the leak Saturday as much larger. NASA officials are now studying the issue and discussing next steps.

Artemis arrives half a century after the last moon landing

It’s been nearly 50 years since the space agency last launched a vehicle designed to take humans to the moon. NASA has named its new lunar program Artemis, after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, and has vowed to place the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.

There will be no astronauts aboard the Artemis rocket during its highly anticipated maiden mission, but this flight will be a critical test of how NASA’s new vehicle will perform in space and during its fiery return to Earth.

Once successfully launched, this rocket will send a crew capsule called Orion on a journey to the moon, within about 60 miles of the lunar surface. After more than five weeks, it returns home and splashes into the Pacific Ocean.

The next flight of this rocket will carry people, but it is not planned until 2024. The agency is aiming for a moon landing in 2025 – although most space viewers expect delays, as this rocket is years behind its original schedule. Congress wanted it to fly in 2016, just five years after NASA shut down its aging fleet of space shuttles.

Nelson said on Saturday that despite Artemis 1’s most recent delays, NASA still planned to launch Artemis 2 in 2024 and Artemis 3 in 2025.

Critics say the Artemis program will be too expensive to be sustainable if NASA depends on this rocket and capsule, which carries a hefty price tag. NASA’s inspector general has said each of the first few flights will cost more than $4 billion, and that doesn’t include billions of dollars in development costs.

Meanwhile, the private company SpaceX, which is currently taking astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, is developing its own mega rocket and space vehicle called Starship. This rocket is expected to make its maiden flight soon and is designed to be both reusable and inexpensive. NASA has already said it will rely on SpaceX to develop Starship as a lunar lander, to get its astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface.

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