NASA is pushing ahead with plans for a second attempt to launch its next-generation rocket on Friday, Sept. 2, after an engine problem forced the agency to cancel today’s planned launch.
NASA halted the Artemis I launch attempt at about 8:34 a.m. ET Monday, citing the failure of one of the Space Launch System’s (SLS) rocket’s four engines to reach the correct temperature. SLS is an important part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send humans back to the moon by 2025.
The next attempt is scheduled for Friday, September 2, at approximately 12:48 p.m. ET. Artemis mission manager Michael Sarafin said Friday is “definitely in the game,” but noted that the agency’s team needs time to dig through the data before making a decision on the likelihood of a successful launch.
“There is a non-zero chance that we will have a launch opportunity on Friday,” Sarafin said during a briefing with reporters. “We’re going to play all nine innings here. We’re not ready to give up yet.”
NASA officials provided a little more context about the engine issue that led to today’s launch being canceled. The launch team struggled to get one of the four RS-25 engines up to the right temperature for launch, leading to the decision to slow down. Temperatures for the engines must be recorded at 500 Rankine to make a launch feasible, Sarafin said.
“Once we got through the propellant charge on the rocket, both on the core stage and the top stage, they started venting the engine,” Sarafin said. “We talked about the engine breather in our flight readiness assessment. We knew that was a risk in this launch campaign, and it would be the first time we successfully demonstrate that.”
Sarafin said the engine should be at a “cryogenic cool temperature so that it is not startled when starting by all the cold fuel flowing through it. So we needed some extra time to assess that.”
But officials warned that today’s delay should not be seen as an engine failure, but rather a problem with the venting system. The launch “never went full engine bleed” during an earlier “wet-dress rehearsal” of the rocket launch earlier this year, Sarafin acknowledged, adding officials knew it could pose a risk to today’s launch.
Sarafin called the past 48 hours “very dynamic,” including a hydrogen leak that was quickly resolved and multiple lightning strikes on the towers that hold up the SLS missile. But when asked whether the rocket might need to be “pushed back” from its position on the launch pad, officials protested.
“That’s ahead of our data reviews and we need the team to rest and come back tomorrow,” Sarafin said. “We’re going to do our best to see where the data leads us and if we can solve it operationally on the trail.”
The coming days will be crucial for NASA as it examines all the data that contributed to today’s slowdown. And leading up to the next two launch windows, time will work against the desk.
The next attempt is scheduled for Friday, September 2, at approximately 12:48 p.m. ET. If that launch succeeds, the mission will last 39 days, with the Orion crew pod plunging into the ocean on October 11. If it doesn’t start then a third start window will open on Monday 5 September.
But if NASA determines that the rocket needs to be moved from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center, those dates could be changed. Before each launch, teams must fully test the flight termination system, which is used to destroy the missile if something goes catastrophically wrong during launch, and that work can only be done within the VAB. That testing takes time, so if SLS is forced to return to the VAB after its rollout in August, there’s a good chance it won’t be ready to fly until the end of October.
Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development, concluded with some advice for those hoping to see a rocket launch today, including Vice President Kamala Harris: “Plan a week-long vacation in Florida and you might see a launch.”
SOURCE – www.theverge.com