NASA will move forward with a second launch attempt of Artemis I on Saturday, with the megarocket’s two-hour launch window set to open at 2:17 p.m. Eastern Time.
On Monday, the launch was scrubbed after one of the Space Launch System’s (SLS) four RS-25 engines on the bottom of its core stage failed to reach the proper temperature range for liftoff.
During the first launch attempt, readings showed SLS’ engine 3 appeared to be as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the desired minus 420 degrees Fahrenheit, according to SLS program manager John Honeycutt. The three other engines came up just a little short.
Other issues encountered during Monday’s launch window included storms in the area that delayed the start of propellant loading operations, a leak at the quick disconnect on the 8-inch line used to fill and drain core stage liquid hydrogen and a hydrogen leak from a valve used to vent the propellant from the core stage intertank.
On Thursday, SLS engineers said that all four of the rocket’s main engines were good and that a faulty temperature sensor caused engine 3 to appear as though it were too warm. Honeycutt has said that the sensor would be “tricky” to fix at the launch pad and that rolling SLS back into Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building could result in weeks of delay.
In preparation for Saturday, Artemis program manager Michael Sarafin said that the team would change its operational procedure for loading propellant into the rocket and try chilling the engines about 30 to 45 minutes earlier in the countdown. Even if the suspect temperature sensor indicates the one engine is too warm, other sensors can be relied on to ensure everything is working correctly and to halt the countdown if there’s a problem, Honeycutt told reporters.
The team will also do some work at the launch pad to prevent another leak from occurring in the rocket’s hydrogen tail service mast umbilical.
The U.S. Space Force Space Launch Delta 45 is predicting a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions at the beginning of the two-hour launch window and an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions toward the later part of the window.
If the launch is successful, SLS’ Orion capsule will travel into space for about six-weeks before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on October 11. Assuming the test goes well, astronauts would climb aboard for Artemis II and fly around the moon and back as soon as 2024. A two-person lunar landing could follow by the end of 2025.
The SLS and Orion have been under development for more than a decade, with years of delays and ballooning costs that have run to at least $37 billion as of last year. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has called the Artemis program an “economic engine,” noting that in 2019 alone, for example, it generated $14 billion in commerce and supported 70,000 American jobs.
Contractors who have worked on SLS and Orion include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The 322-foot rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA, out-muscling even the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972.
Take two. NASA readies its second launch attempt for its Artemis 1 moon mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA workers are once again getting the agency’s new moon rocket ready for its first test flight, and if all goes well the rocket will blast off during a two-hour launch window that starts at 2:17 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
“We’re going to show up, and we’re going to try, and we’re going to give it our best,” said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, during a press briefing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the 32-story-tall rocket, with a crew capsule on top, is waiting on the launch pad.
NASA’s first effort to launch this rocket had to be scuttled on Monday morning after a sensor indicated that one of the rocket’s four engines didn’t seem to be cooling down to the proper temperature of approximately minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit.
After studying the problem and troubleshooting, officials said it’s clear the engine was actually fine and a sensor was giving a false 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.
It’s been almost 50 years since the space agency last launched a vehicle designed to carry people to the moon. NASA has named its new moon program Artemis, after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, and has vowed to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.
No astronauts will be on board the Artemis rocket during its long-anticipated first mission, but this flight will be a critical test of how NASA’s new vehicle will perform in space and during the fiery return to Earth.
The weather forecast for this launch window seems favorable, with a 60% chance that conditions will be right for liftoff. “Basically, the weather looks good,” said weather officer Melody Lovin with Space Launch Delta 45. “I don’t expect weather to be a show stopper.”
But if weather does prevent the rocket from flying, NASA can try again on Monday.
Once this rocket successfully lifts off, it will send a crew capsule called Orion on a journey to orbit the moon, coming within about 60 miles of the lunar surface. After more than five weeks, it will return home and splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 11.
The next flight of this rocket will carry people, but it isn’t scheduled until 2024. The agency is targeting a 2025 moon landing — although most space watchers expect delays, as this rocket is already years behind its original schedule. Congress had wanted it to fly in 2016, just five years after NASA retired its aging fleet of space shuttles.
Critics say the Artemis program will be too expensive to be sustainable if NASA depends on this rocket and capsule, which come with a hefty price tag. NASA’s inspector general has said that 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 currently ferries astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, is developing its own megarocket and space vehicle called Starship. This rocket is expected to have its first 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 down to the surface.