The final preparations for NASA’s new mega-rocket for the Moon were delayed on Saturday, September 3, due to a fuel leak detected a few hours before takeoff of this test mission, which is to launch the new Artemis program, fifty years after Apollo’s last flight.
Liftoff is scheduled for 2:17 p.m. local time (8:17 p.m. Paris time) from launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and remains possible over the next two hours, if necessary. Weather conditions are 60% favorable at the start of this shooting window, then gradually improve to 80%.
Shortly before 6 a.m. local time (12 p.m. Paris time), approval was given to begin filling the rocket’s tanks with its cryogenic fuel – in total, around three million liters of hydrogen and oxygen. ultra-cold liquids.
But a little over an hour later, a leak was detected at the foot of the rocket, at the level of the pipe through which the hydrogen passes to the tank. The flow was stopped while the teams searched for a solution. NASA did not say how much this issue might or might not affect takeoff time.
Monday, duringa first attemptthe launch had been canceled at the last moment due to technical problems, particularly concerning the cooling of the engines.
In the event of a new impediment on Saturday, the take-off of the orange and white SLS rocket, which will be the first flight, could possibly be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday. It will then be necessary to wait until September 19 at the earliest, because of the positions of the Earth and the Moon.
A springboard for a trip to Mars
The purpose of this unmanned mission, named Artemis-1, is to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe enough to transport astronauts in the future. Thanks to this new vessel, the American space agency intends to reconnect with distant human exploration, the Moon being a thousand times further away than the International Space Station.
Above all, NASA intends this time to establish a lasting human presence there, in order to make it a springboard for a trip to Mars.
In the middle of the long weekend in the United States, up to 400,000 people are expected to admire the take-off, especially from the surrounding beaches. Many astronauts also made the trip, including the Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.
Only a few hours left on Earth for this magnificent machine: the launch window opens at 8:17 p.m. The weather is good and… https://t.co/Qfu707foS3
If successful, two minutes after takeoff, the boosters will fall back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main stage will detach in turn. Then, after about an hour and thirty minutes, a final push from the upper stage will put the capsule on its way to the Moon, which it will take several days to reach. The trip is expected to last about six weeks in total. Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft so far.
A journey of 2.1 million kilometers
The main purpose of Artemis-1 is to test the capsule’s heat shield, the largest ever built. Upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 km/h, its temperature reaches 2,800°C. In total, the ship must travel some 2.1 million kilometers until it lands in the Pacific Ocean.
The full success of the mission would be a relief for NASA, which originally expected 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, the 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 needed to send the first humans to Mars: new suits, vehicle, possible use of lunar water…
According to NASA boss Bill Nelson, a round trip to the Red Planet aboard Orion, which would last several years, could be attempted towards the end of the 2030s.