Why NASA canceled Artemis I's second moon launch

Wellor the second time this week, NASA canceled the Artemis I launch on Saturday morning due to technical problems. The launch was originally planned for August 29, but now has to be rescheduled again due to a fuel leak.

Saturday’s launch was canceled when rocket operators sent a command to fill the rocket’s tank and an alarm went off that there was a hydrogen leak. The launch team tried several troubleshooting measures to fix the leak, but were unsuccessful. The rocket requires liquid hydrogen, so the leak will need to be sealed before launch.

Before the first mission attempt, former NASA Space Shuttle Program Director Wayne Hale predicted uncertainty about the launch.

“I don’t want to be against Debbie, but I rate the odds of #Artemis1 launching on Monday at about 50/50, excluding weather. This is the first launch of a new sophisticated missile and there are probably still bugs to be ironed out. I’m sorry if this upsets people, but it’s best to be realistic.” Hale tweeted on 27 Aug

Artemis I is a lunar-orbiting mission that will serve as a test of whether the new rocket technology will be able to safely carry astronauts on the next missions NASA plans to launch over the next few years to revive human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Startup attempts requiring several attempts are not uncommon and are usually cautious. Space reporter Kenneth Chang compared Artemis I to NASA’s 2009 mission to the Endeavor rocket, which was successful on only its sixth attempt.

Why was the first launch of Artemis I delayed?

The rocket used in Artemis I, called the Space Launch System, is the most powerful rocket NASA has yet developed, and is powered by burning approximately three million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen in four large engines beneath the rocket.

The engines must be cooled during the countdown to prevent launch shock to the system, and on August 29, before the originally planned launch, a temperature reading indicated that one of the engines was not cold enough. A hydrogen-related fuel leak also occurred during the first launch attempt, a problem NASA experienced while practicing rocket launch protocols already in the spring.

Lightning and stormy weather at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Fla., appeared on Saturday, but NASA officials said they did not expect it to cause disruptions. Ultimately, technical problems with the engines delayed the launch.

“We’ll go when it’s ready. We’re not going to go until then, especially now on a test flight, because we’re going to stress that and we’re going to test it, and we’re going to test that heat shield and make sure it’s right before we put four people on top of it,” NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson said after the second Artemis I launch was canceled.

When is the launch expected now?

Although NASA has the option of trying to launch Artemis I again on September 5 or 6, the agency does not feel prepared to launch on either of those days. At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Nelson and other NASA officials said the rocket team will continue to work diligently to fix the leak and that a safe, complete repair is their top priority.

“It was a much bigger leak,” Nelson said. “The techniques we used on Monday — for this magnitude of leak — just didn’t work in our favor.”

NASA will reassess the rocket’s condition and discuss a potential launch date next week, which likely won’t be until October, at the earliest when there is a window of optimal weather conditions.

Until the next launch attempt, the rocket will have to be moved from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), NASA’s engineering building where the rocket was assembled. The pad and VAB are at the Kennedy Space Center complex.

Artemis I will not carry passengers, but will test the safety of the rocket for a future crew, in addition to carrying 10 small satellites to gather scientific and technical information for potential discoveries. NASA expressed great optimism about the three parts Artemis programnamed to complement the famous Apollo program.

“With #Artemis, @NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. Take the next giant leap with us.” NASA wrote on his Twitter account.

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