Cancelled Saturday because of a fuel leak, the launch of the Nasa rocket to the Moon will not be retried quickly
Steph Deschamps / September. 4, 2022
After a second failed launch attempt on Saturday due to a fuel leak, Nasa will not retry to launch its new mega-rocket to the moon in the coming days, a Nasa official said, without announcing a new date for the moment. The launch period that ends Tuesday is no longer on the table, Jim Free, Nasa's associate administrator, said at a news conference. The test mission Artemis 1, without crew on board, must mark the beginning of the big American space program of return on the Moon.
The liftoff was initially scheduled at 14:17 local time, with a two-hour launch window. But after more than three hours of trying to solve a fuel leakage problem during the rocket's tank filling operations, time ran out for the launch teams.
The launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, made the final decision to cancel from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Nasa commentator said in a video broadcast. 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 possibility of launch is possible before September 19 because of 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 step of the Artemis program, whose goal is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, allowing it to be used as a springboard to Mars.
The orange and white SLS rocket, which should have had its maiden flight on Saturday, has been in development for more than a decade, to become the most powerful in the world. Shortly before 06:00 local time, the green light had been given to begin filling the rocket's tanks with its cryogenic fuel -- in total, about three million liters of ultra-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
But around 07H15, a leak was detected at the foot of the rocket, at the level of the pipe through which passes the hydrogen to the tank. The flow was stopped while the teams tried, three times in a row, to solve the problem, without success, tweeted Nasa. On Monday, during a first attempt, the launch had also been cancelled at the last moment because of technical problems, first a similar leak, which had been overcome, 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 watch the takeoff, especially from the surrounding beaches. A bunch of astronauts also made the trip, including the Frenchman Thomas Pesquet. Artemis 1 must allow to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe to transport astronauts in the future.
With this new spacecraft, the U.S. space agency intends to revive the human exploration of the Moon, which is 1,000 times further away than the International Space Station. The trip should last about six weeks in total. Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.
The main objective of Artemis 1 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 Sun's surface. In total, the spacecraft must travel some 2.1 million kilometers until its landing in the Pacific Ocean.
The complete success of the mission would be a relief for Nasa, which was originally counting on a first launch in 2017 for SLS, and will have invested by the end of 2025 more than 90 billion dollars in its new lunar program, according to a public audit. 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 wishes to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the Moon. The next mission, Artemis 2, will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, in 2025 at the earliest. Nasa hopes to launch about one mission per year thereafter.
It will then build a space station in lunar orbit, called Gateway, and a base on the surface of the Moon. There, NASA wants to test the technologies necessary to send the first humans to Mars: new suits, vehicle to move, possible use of lunar water ... According to the head of Nasa, Bill Nelson, a return trip to the red planet aboard Orion, which would last several years, could be attempted by the end of the 2030s.