Here’s why it took NASA so long to try and launch another Artemis I

The longer delays can be attributed to several factors, including scheduling quirks, potential launch site traffic, and NASA’s desire to make sure it solves the latest issues with leaked fuel.

To sum up what happened Saturday, September 3rd: Launch officials confidently went into this weekend’s attempt to launch the rocket, called the Space Launch System, or SLS. But then, when the rocket was again loaded with super-cool liquid hydrogen fuel, a major leak occurred. and NASA Tuesday said He will start trying to correct these problems while the missile is still on the launch pad.
But, in the end, the space agency will still need to return the rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4.2-mile flight and take about 10 hours, in order to “reset the system’s batteries,” according to Tuesday. Blog post from NASA.

And when it comes to setting a new release date, timing is going to be complicated.

Timing can be everything

On a given day, there are set time slots – or “launch windows” – that are set aside when the missile is allowed to launch, and they can range from about half an hour to a few hours a day. But even those windows are not available every day. There is, too “launch periodsThese are periods of days when the Moon is aligned with the Earth in a manner favorable to this mission.

The last launch period ended on Tuesday, September 6, and NASA said it was impossible for the SLS to be ready to fly during that time.

The next launch period runs from September 19 to October 4. But there’s another potential problem: NASA is planning it Crew-5 mission launch, which will transport a new crew of astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket, on October 3. And NASA will have to work to make sure that one launch does not conflict with another.
Later in October, another launch period will begin, from October 17 to October 31. This period will provide up to 11 potential launch windows for the SLS. (Note: there are files No launch times available On October 24, 25, 26 and 28.)

NASA’s goals for the exact period and window will depend on a variety of factors, including how well they coordinate with SpaceX regarding the Crew-5 launch and how long the SLS rocket will remain on the launch pad as engineers work to fix the leak, according to Jim Frey, NASA associate administrator. To develop exploration systems.

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super cool fuel

When an SLS rocket is fueled, it requires massive amounts of highly cooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the rocket’s tanks. When hydrogen is loaded, the fuel begins to pump slowly but then increases in speed in what is called a “quick fill”. And during this rapid filling there was a “big leak” – even bigger than the leaks NASA identified during the August 29 launch attempt.

That’s why launch officials want to make sure that the fix is ​​identified and the root of the problem is identified before making the next attempt. As of Saturday, one guess was that a valve problem might have caused the hydrogen pressure to increase, bringing it to less than 60 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of the 20 pounds per square inch they were hoping for, Michael Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, said Saturday. .

Until Saturday, NASA also tried to troubleshoot many of the problems it encountered during The first attempt to launch a SLS missile On August 29. It addressed some leaks that occurred while refueling, and assessed the risks related to a problem with the engine cooling system and a crack in some of the foam sheathing in one of the rocket’s tanks.

NASA may choose to take another peek at these issues as it’s working toward its next launch attempt, too.

Complicating the selection of the next target launch date is the unstable Florida weather. For any missile launch, high winds, lightning, or other unfavorable conditions can cause further delays. Late summer and early fall can also bring hurricanes to the Florida coast where the SLS sits.

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This is rocket science

As NASA officials have said before, they hope to convey that these delays and technical issues do not necessarily indicate a significant problem with the rocket.

Prior to the SLS, NASA’s Space Shuttle program, which has flown for 20 years, suffered from frequent launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history scrubs For mechanical or technical problems.

This is, after all, rocket science.

“I can tell you that these teams know exactly what they’re doing, and I’m very proud of them,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Saturday. “We tried to emphasize that this is a test and test that has certain risks, and we bombarded that in every public comment we had in order to bring expectations into line with reality.”

Frye, the NASA associate administrator, added that his team will always go on a launch attempt optimistic that the liftoff will happen.

“I’m sure there will be a question, are we confident?” he said. “I actually like this question because (asking) ‘Are you sure you’re going to get out of bed this morning?'” “

This mission, called Artemis I, is expected to pave the way for many more missions to the Moon. The Artemis II mission, scheduled for early next year, is expected to follow a similar flight path around the Moon but will have a crew on board. Later this decade, Artemis III astronauts are expected to land on the Moon for the first time since NASA’s Apollo program in the mid-20th century.

CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed to this story.

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