After the first failed attempt on Monday due to technical problems, the launch of the first Artemis 1 test mission without an astronaut on board was this time scheduled for Saturday at 14:17 local time (18:17 GMT). Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But NASA teams have not been able to fix the problem with a fuel leak that began in the early hours of the morning while filling up the rocket’s tanks. Mike Sarafin, NASA mission director, called this leak of supercold liquid hydrogen “large”.
He explained that the “prime suspect” is a “seal” that surrounds the part that connects the pipe that carries the fuel and the rocket, a component designed to break away ultra-fast immediately after the rocket is launched. off.
The teams believe that they must replace this seal, either directly on the launch pad or by returning the rocket to an assembly shop located a few kilometers away. Thus, this work was no longer allowed to take off by Tuesday, when the current possible launch period ended, due to the position of the Earth and the Moon.
May be several weeks late
Another problem: the missile’s emergency self-destruction system, designed to detonate it in the event of a trajectory deviation after takeoff, must a priori be retested, and can only be tested in the assembly building. However, according to Mike Sarafin, the installation and withdrawal of the rocket will take several weeks.
The nearest possible launch dates are from September 19 to October 4, then from October 17 to October 31.
Mr. Sarafin felt it was “too early” to rule out the end of September entirely and promised to submit a progress report next week.
NASA said early October would be difficult to reconcile due to the planned launch of a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station, also from Kennedy Space Center, at the same time.
More than ten years of work
Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the coast to watch the takeoff.
MARCO BELLO / AFP
Be that as it may, the tens of thousands of spectators who were expected on the coast on Saturday for take-off, so will still have to wait to watch the show.
The orange and white SLS rocket, which has never flown before, has been in development for over a decade to become the most powerful in the world.
Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, Artemis 1 should make sure that the Orion capsule on top of the rocket is safe to take astronauts to the Moon in the future. For this first mission, Orion will travel up to 64,000 kilometers beyond the Moon, further than any other habitable spacecraft.
The main goal is to test its heat shield, the largest ever built. When it returns to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have to withstand a speed of 40,000 km / h and a temperature half that of the surface of the Sun. In total, the ship must travel about 2.1 million kilometers before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Moon landing in 2025
The overall success of the mission would come as a relief to NASA, which initially aimed for the first launch of the SLS in 2017 and is investing more than $90 billion in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit. .
The name Artemis was chosen in honor of the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, echoing the Apollo program that sent only white men to the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972. This time, NASA wants to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the moon. The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the moon in 2024 without landing. This honor will not be given to the Artemis 3 crew until 2025 at the earliest.