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NASA postpones Artemis’ first flight of New Moon rocket after engine cooling problem

NASA postpones Artemis' first flight of New Moon rocket after engine cooling problem
  • The Florida explosion was targeted on Monday
  • Artemis seeks to return humans to the moon, possibly by 2025
  • The program behind the Apollo moon missions 50 years ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Aug. 29 (Reuters) – An engine cooling problem forced NASA on Monday to delay the launch of its massive new experimental rocket it plans to use on astronauts’ upcoming trips to the Moon by at least four days. More than 50 years after the last Apollo mission to the moon.

The space agency declined to give an exact timeframe for a re-attempt to launch the mission, called Artemis I, but a second attempt was still possible as early as Friday, depending on the result of additional data analysis, senior NASA officials said at a news briefing. After hours of aborted countdown.

If engineers can solve the problem on the launch pad within the next 48 to 72 hours, “Friday definitely plays its part,” Michael Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, told reporters.

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The planned trip represents a launch of NASA’s highly-acclaimed Moon-to-Mars Artemis program, the successor to the Apollo lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s, and the first flight of the Space Launch Vehicle (SLS) rocket and Orion astronaut. capsule.

The mission requires a six-week unmanned test flight of the Orion capsule around the moon and back to Earth in order to splash water in the Pacific Ocean.

The glitch surfaced Monday as rocket fuel tanks filled with supercooled liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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NASA said the launch teams had begun a process of “conditioning” to adequately cool the four main SLS engines, but one of the engines failed to cool as expected. The flight was canceled two minutes after the target launch time.

Late launch delays are routine in the space business, and Monday was not in itself an immediate indication of a major setback for NASA or its primary contractors, Boeing Co. (ban) For SLS and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) for Orion.

“We don’t launch unless it’s true,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an online interview after the liftoff was called off. “This is a very complicated machine, a very complex system, and all of these things have to work. And you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.”

However, the delay was a disappointment to the thousands of spectators who gathered on the beaches around Cape Canaveral, binoculars in hand. Vice President Kamala Harris had just arrived at the Space Center, joining the crowd of invited guests who attended the event.

The flight aims to put the 5.75-million-pound craft through its paces on a rigorous test flight, pushing the limits of its design, before NASA deems it reliable enough to carry astronauts on a subsequent flight aimed at 2024.

The SLS is the world’s most powerful complex rocket, and represents the largest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Saturn V launch during Apollo, which grew out of the US-Soviet space race in the Cold War. era.

Given the complexity of the issue that surfaced on Monday and the restrictions on how long the rocket is allowed to stay in the launch tower before the explosion, the spacecraft could end up returning to its vehicle assembly building if the troubleshooting and repairs process continues. For a long time.

Such a step may involve a delay longer than a few days or a week. But NASA officials said they weren’t ready to make that call yet.

Monday’s technical hitch was predicted weeks ago during NASA’s pre-launch “wet rehearsal” tests for the SLS, when a problem with the rocket’s hydrogen fuel line forced engineers to abandon full engine conditioning testing.

NASA officials chose to move forward with final preparations for the launch and postpone the first run of the air conditioning until the actual countdown, acknowledging then that such a strategy could eventually delay liftoff, as happened Monday.

One additional drawback, Sarafin said, was the “vent valve” problem, which hampered the engineers’ ability to apply enough pressure on the hydrogen fuel tank.

NASA officials said they expect to get more clarity about next steps after a meeting scheduled on Tuesday to review data collected from the launch attempt.

Five decades ago, humans are still on the moon

If the first two Artemis missions are successful, NASA aims to return astronauts to the moon, including the first woman to set foot on the moon, as early as 2025, although many experts believe the time frame is likely to be later than Few way. Years.

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The last humans to walk on the Moon were the two-man Apollo 17 team in 1972, following in the footsteps of 10 other astronauts during five previous missions beginning with Apollo 11 in 1969.

The Artemis program eventually seeks to create a long-range lunar base as a springboard for more ambitious astronauts’ flights to Mars, a goal that NASA officials have said will likely take until at least the late 2030s.

The program is named after the goddess who was the twin sister of Apollo in ancient Greek mythology.

The SLS system has been in development for more than a decade, with years of delays and cost overruns. But Artemis has also created tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in commerce.

Although there are no humans on board, Orion will carry a simulator crew of three – one male and two mannequins – equipped with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that astronauts might encounter in real life.

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(Reporting by Joey Rowlett and Steve Gorman) Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alistair Bell

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