Artemis I: NASA cancels takeoff due to fuel leak

Liftoff was originally scheduled for 2:17 p.m. local time (6:17 p.m. GMT), with a 2-hour firing window. But after more than three hours of trying to resolve a fuel leak during rocket fueling operations, time was running out for launch teams.

Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson made the final decision to cancel from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, a NASA commentator said in a video broadcast.

Artemis I was scheduled to take off at 2:17 p.m. Saturday, but the flight was postponed due to a fuel leak.

Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Fifty years after Apollo

A new attempt could possibly take place on Monday or Tuesday, but NASA will have to analyze all the parameters before deciding on a new date. After Tuesday, no new launch possibilities are possible before September 19 due to the position of the Earth and the Moon.

Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, this first test mission, without a crew on board, is the first stage of the Artemis program, the aim of which is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, then allowing it to be used as a springboard. towards Mars.

The orange and white SLS rocket, which should have had its first flight on Saturday, has been in development for more than a decade to become the most powerful in the world.

Shortly before 6:00 a.m. local time, the go-ahead was given to begin filling the rocket’s tanks with its cryogenic fuel – a total of around three million liters of ultra-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

But around 7:15 a.m., a leak was detected at the foot of the rocket, at the level of the pipe through which the hydrogen passes to the tank. The flow was stopped while the teams tried, three times in a row, to solve the problem, without successNASA tweeted.

Technical problems

On Monday, during a first attempt, the launch was also canceled at the last moment due to technical problems, first a similar leak which could have been plugged, then on the cooling of the engines.

In the middle of the long weekend in the United States, up to 400,000 people were expected to admire the take-off, especially from the surrounding beaches.

Several astronauts also made the trip, including the Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.

Artemis I should make it possible to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe to transport astronauts in the future.

Thanks to this new vessel, the American space agency intends to reconnect with distant human exploration, the Moon being 1000 times further away than the International Space Station.

On the way to the moon

The trip is expected to last about six weeks in total. Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft so far.

The main purpose of Artemis I is to test the capsule’s heat shield, the largest ever built. On its return to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have to withstand a speed of 40,000 km/h and a temperature half as hot as that of the surface of the Sun.

In total, the ship must travel some 2.1 million kilometers until it lands in the Pacific Ocean.

A man and a woman work on a huge round structure in a hangar.

NASA employees prepare the heat shield to protect the Orion capsule during the Artemis II mission.

Photo: NASA/Isaac Watson

Complete mission success would be a relief for NASA, which originally aimed for a 2017 first launch for SLS. NASA will have spent more than $90 billion on its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit.

Diverse and inclusive flight

The name Artemis was chosen after a female figure, the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, echoing the Apollo program which sent only white men to the lunar surface 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 II, will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis III, in 2025 at the earliest. NASA then wants to launch about one mission per year.

It will then be a question of building a space station in lunar orbit, baptized Gatewayand a base on the surface of the Moon.

Here, NASA wants to test the technologies needed to send the first humans to Mars: new suits, vehicle to move around, possible use of lunar water…

According to NASA boss Bill Nelson, a round trip to the red planet aboard Orion, which would last several years, could be attempted towards the end of the 2030s.

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