Here’s why it’s taking NASA so long to attempt another Artemis I launch

The longer delay can be attributed to several factors, including scheduling quirks, possible traffic at the launch site, and NASA’s desire to ensure it has resolved the final fuel leak issues.

To recap what happened on Saturday, September 3: Launch officials confidently embarked on this weekend’s rocket launch attempt, called the Space Launch System, or SLS. But then, as the rocket was again loaded with super cold liquid hydrogen propellant, a big leak occurred. And NASA said on Tuesday it would begin trying to fix those issues while the rocket is still on the launch pad.
But ultimately the space agency will still have to taxi the rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4.2-mile trip that takes about 10 hours, in order to “reset the system’s batteries,” according to a Tuesday blog post from NASA.

And when it comes to setting a new launch date, the timing will be complicated.

Timing can be everything

On any given day, there are specific periods of time – or “launch windows” – reserved for when the rocket is cleared to launch, and they can range from around half an hour to a few hours per day. But even these windows are not available every day. There are also “launch periods”, which are periods of days when the moon aligns with the Earth in a way favorable to this mission.

The last launch window ended on Tuesday, September 6, and NASA had said there was no way the SLS would be ready to fly during that window.

The next launch period is from September 19 to October 4. But there’s another potential problem: NASA plans to launch its Crew-5 mission, which will carry a new crew of astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket, on October 3. And NASA will have to work to ensure that one launch does not conflict with another.
Later in October, another launch period will begin, from October 17 to October 31. This period will provide 11 possible launch windows for the SLS. (Note: There are no launch times available on October 24, 25, 26, and 28.)

NASA’s exact target period and window will depend on a variety of factors, including how it can coordinate with SpaceX regarding the launch of Crew-5 and how long the SLS rocket remains on the launch pad while the engineers are working on the leak problem, according to Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development.

Super cool fuel

When the SLS rocket is fueled, it requires huge amounts of supercooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the rocket’s tanks. When charging hydrogen, the fuel begins to pump slowly, then picks up its speed in what is called a “fast fill”. And it was during this rapid fill that a “big leak” occurred – even larger than the leaks identified by NASA during the August 29 launch attempt.

That’s why release managers want to make sure they identify a fix and the root of the problem before making the next attempt. On Saturday, it was speculated that a problem with a valve may have caused the hydrogen to over-pressurize, putting it under 60 pounds per square inch of pressure rather than the 20 pounds per square inch they were hoping for, Michael Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager , said Saturday.

Before Saturday, NASA had also tried to resolve several problems encountered during the first launch attempt of the SLS rocket on August 29. a crack in the foam covering one of the rocket’s fuel tanks.

NASA may choose to take another look at these issues as it also works toward the next launch attempt.

The precarious weather in Florida further complicates the selection of the next target launch date. For any rocket launch, high winds, lightning, or other adverse conditions may force further delays. Late summer and early fall can also bring hurricanes to the Florida coast where SLS is located.

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NASA is working on the possibilities, and the public can expect more answers in the days and weeks ahead.

It’s magic

As NASA officials have said before, they hope to convey that these delays and technical issues do not necessarily indicate a significant problem with the rocket.

Prior to SLS, NASA’s space shuttle program, which flew for 20 years, suffered from frequent scrubbing launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history of friction for mechanical or technical issues.

It is, after all, rocket science.

“I can tell you that these teams know exactly what they’re doing, and I’m very proud of them,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Saturday. “We have tried to emphasize that this is a test and that a test carries some risk, and we have hammered that into every public comment we have had in order to align expectations with reality. “

Free, NASA’s associate administrator, added that his team will still undertake a launch attempt optimistic about liftoff.

“I’m sure there will be a question of ‘Are we confident? “”, Did he declare. “I actually love that question because it’s like (asking): ‘Are you sure you were going to get out of bed this morning?’

This mission, dubbed Artemis I, should pave the way for many other missions to the Moon. The Artemis II mission, scheduled for next year, is expected to follow a similar flight path around the moon but will have a crew on board. And later this decade, Artemis III is expected to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since NASA’s Apollo program in the mid-20th century.

CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed to this story.

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