AFP, published Sunday 04 September 2022 at 03:45
The takeoff of NASA’s new mega-rocket to the moon can no longer be attempted in early September, after its last-minute cancellation on Saturday for the second time in a week, a setback that postpones the actual launch of the American program of back to the Moon, Artemis.
“It’s a whole new vehicle, a new technology, a whole new goal – to get back to the Moon to prepare for a trip to Mars – and yes, it’s difficult,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson at a press conference.
After a failed first attempt on Monday due to technical problems, the take-off of the first Artemis 1 test mission, with no astronaut on board, was this time scheduled for Saturday at 14:17 local time (18:17 GMT), from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But NASA teams were unable to resolve a fuel leakage problem that began early in the morning during rocket refilling operations. This loss of ultracold liquid hydrogen has been described as “large” by Mike Sarafin, head of the mission at NASA.
The “prime suspect,” he explained, is a “seal” surrounding a piece that connects the tube through which the fuel and the rocket passes – a component designed to break ultra-quickly just as the rocket is fired. turned off.
The teams think they need to replace this seal, either directly on the launch pad, or by returning the rocket to its assembly building, a few miles away.
This work has therefore no longer allowed to take off by Tuesday, when the current period of possible launch has ended, due to the positions of the Earth and the Moon.
– Possibly weeks late –
Another problem: the rocket’s emergency self-destruct system, designed to detonate it in the event of a deviant trajectory after take-off, must be re-tested a priori, and can only be tested in the assembly building. .
However, it will take “weeks” to bring the rocket and take it out, Mike Sarafin said.
The next possible times for a launch are from September 19th to October 4th, then from October 17th to 31st.
Mr Sarafin felt it was still “too early” to completely rule out the end of September and promised a progress report next week.
NASA has said that the period of early October would be complicated to coordinate, due to the planned simultaneous takeoff of a crew of astronauts for the International Space Station, also from the Kennedy Space Center.
Be that as it may, the tens of thousands of spectators expected for take-off on Saturday on the coast will therefore still have to wait to see 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 it possible to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe for transporting astronauts to the moon in the future.
For this first mission, Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.
The main objective is to test its heat shield, the largest ever built. Upon its return to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have to withstand a speed of 40,000 km / h and a temperature that is half that of the Sun’s surface.
In total, the ship has to travel approximately 2.1 million kilometers before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
– Moon landing in 2025 –
The mission’s complete success would be a relief for NASA, which originally counted on a first launch in 2017 for SLS, and will have invested over $ 90 billion in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit.
The name Artemis was chosen after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, echoing the Apollo program, which only sent 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 2, will transport astronauts to the moon in 2024, without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, at the earliest in 2025. NASA therefore wants to launch about one mission per year.
It will therefore be a question of building a space station in lunar orbit, baptized Gateway, and a base on the surface of the Moon.
There, NASA wants to test the technologies needed to send the first humans on a round trip to Mars. Such a journey, which will last several years, could be attempted in the late 1930s.