NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar rocket will be shut down for at least another four days.
NASA had scheduled the September 23 or 27 launch of Artemis 1, which will use the Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket to send the Orion capsule on an uncrewed test flight to lunar orbit. But the agency announced on its blog on Monday evening (September 12) that the earlier date is no longer relevant; it is now targeting September 27 for the launch of Artemis 1, with a possible fallback date of October 2.
Artemis 1 should have been in the air by now. NASA first attempted to launch the mission in August. 29, but was shut down due to abnormal temperature readings in one of the SLS’s first stage RS-25 engines. The mission team soon traced the problem back to a faulty temperature sensor and prepared the SLS and Orion for another attempt on 3 September. But a leak of liquid hydrogen fuel prevented this launch attempt as well.
Related: NASA Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Operational Updates
Read more: NASA Artemis 1 Lunar Mission Explained in Photos
The leak occurred at the “quick disconnect,” the interface connecting the SLS main stage to the fuel line from the missile’s mobile launch tower. The Artemis 1 team replaced two seals around the quick disconnect last week and completed other repairs related to the problem over the weekend, NASA officials said in an update.
NASA is currently preparing for an SLS refueling test that will pump ultra-cold propellant into the SLS to show that the leak has indeed been fixed. The agency had planned to conduct this test on September 17, but it has now been pushed back to no earlier than September 21.
“The updated dates represent a careful consideration of several logistical issues, including the added value of having more time to prepare for the cryogenic demonstration test, and therefore more time to prepare for launch,” NASA officials wrote in a blog post on Monday. (will open in a new tab). “Timing also allows managers to ensure teams get enough rest and replenish cryogenic fuel supplies.”
The Artemis 1 stack remains at pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but it may have to return to the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) of KSC. The US Space Force, which controls the Eastern Rocket Launch Site, has certified the Artemis 1 Termination Flight System (FTS) for just 25 days — and that time has already expired.
NASA has requested an extension of the FTS certification, which is designed to destroy the Artemis 1 stack if it veers off course during liftoff. If this request is denied, the vehicle will have to be rolled away from pad 39B to VAB, the only place where the tests required for re-certification can take place. (In any case, Artemis 1 may have to return to VAB for repairs if the fixes made on site do not take root.)
“NASA continues to comply with the East Ridge process to review the agency’s request to extend the current flight termination system test requirements and provide additional information and data as needed,” NASA wrote in an update Monday. “In parallel, the agency continues to prepare for cryogenic demonstration testing and potential launch capabilities if the request is approved.”
NASA has already received one such FTS extension from 20 to 25 days.
The two upcoming launch dates for Artemis 1 are close to that of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 space mission, which is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station from pad 39A KSC on October 3rd.
“Teams are working on the upcoming commercial crewed launch in parallel with the Artemis 1 schedule, and both launch schedules will continue to be evaluated in the coming weeks,” NASA officials wrote on Monday.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).