AFP, published on Sunday, September 04, 2022 at 03:45
The takeoff of NASA’s new mega-rocket to the Moon cannot be attempted again at the beginning of September, after its cancellation at the last moment on Saturday for the second time in a week, a setback which postpones the effective 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 return to the Moon to prepare for a trip to Mars — and yes, it is difficult,” the boss told a press conference. from NASA, Bill Nelson.
After a first failed attempt on Monday due to technical problems, the takeoff of the first Artemis 1 test mission, without an astronaut on board, was this time scheduled for Saturday at 2:17 p.m. local time (6:17 p.m. GMT), from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But the NASA teams failed to solve a fuel leak problem, which started in the early morning, during the filling operations of the rocket tanks. This leak of ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was described as “big” by Mike Sarafin, in charge of the mission at NASA.
The “primary suspect”, he explained, is a “seal” that surrounds a piece that connects the pipe through which the fuel passes and the rocket — a component designed to break off ultra-quickly just as the rocket is fired. lift-off.
The teams think they have to replace this seal, either on the launch pad directly, or by bringing the rocket back to its assembly building, a few kilometers away.
This work thus no longer made it possible to take off by Tuesday, when the current possible launch period 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 deviating trajectory after takeoff, must a priori be tested again, and can only be tested in the assembly building. .
However, bringing the rocket in and taking it out will take “weeks”, said Mike Sarafin.
The next possible periods for a launch are from September 19 to October 4, then from October 17 to 31.
Mr. Sarafin felt that it was still “too early” to completely rule out the end of September, and promised a progress report next week.
NASA said that the period of early October would be complicated to coordinate, because of the planned takeoff at the same time 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 who were expected on the coast on Saturday for take-off will therefore still have to wait to watch the show.
The orange and white SLS rocket, which has never flown before, has been in development for more than 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 to transport 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 so far.
The main objective is to test its 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.
– Moon landing in 2025 –
The complete success of the mission would be a relief for NASA, which originally counted 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 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 2, will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, 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 Gateway, and a base on the surface of the Moon.
There, NASA wants to test the technologies necessary to send the first humans for a round trip to Mars. Such a trip, which would last several years, could be attempted towards the end of the 2030s.