Nasa scientists ‘hopeful’ for second Artemis 1 Moon launch attempt
Image credit: Nasa
The launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) test flight to the Moon has been rescheduled to Friday after scientists discovered a hydrogen leak on board.
Nasa scientists are hopeful they can successfully launch a rocket to the Moon as soon as Friday despite a failed attempt on Monday.
The launch of the biggest rocket ever developed by Nasa was originally scheduled to take place at 1:33 pm BST on Monday, from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, the launch was called off moments before due to a temperature problem in one of the engines, which was later attributed to a hydrogen leak.
Michael Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, said the team also encountered issues over the weekend and on Monday, including lightning strikes and a fuel leak. Following the postponed take-off, he told a Nasa press conference the team is “not ready to give up” and the earliest possible time for the next attempt would be just before 1pm BST on Friday.
The maiden flight, part of Nasa's Artemis programme, is just a demonstration with no humans on board. However, the mission aims to eventually send people to the Moon and even form a lunar colony.
The 98 metre SLS is the most powerful rocket Nasa has ever built. In this crucial testing phase, it will fly further than any spacecraft built for humans: 40,000 miles past the far side of the Moon and 280,000 miles from Earth.
The agency’s administrator, former astronaut, Bill Nelson, said that rocket launch delays are “just part of the space business” in response to the postponement of the Artemis 1 test flight mission.
“This is a brand-new rocket. It’s not going to fly until it’s ready," he added. “There are millions of components of this rocket and its systems, and needless to say the complexity is daunting when you bring it all into the focus of a countdown.”
However, the cancellation of the launch disappointed the hundreds of thousands of spectators who had gathered on local beaches and causeways to see the most powerful rocket in 50 years fly skyward. Among those waiting at the space centre to witness the historic launch was US vice president Kamala Harris.
“She was pumped the entire time," said Nelson. “She is very bullish on our space programme and on this particular programme of going back to the Moon and going to Mars.”
The SLS rocket is due to take the Orion capsule, powered by the Airbus-built European Service Module (ESM), into the Moon’s orbit.
The megarocket's 8.8 million pounds of thrust at launch is 13 per cent more than the Space Shuttle, and 15 per cent greater than the Saturn V rocket used on the Apollo missions. Each of the two boosters generates more thrust than 14 four-engine commercial airliners, according to Nasa. It's also powered by four RS-25 engines, with the outbound trip to the Moon taking several days.
The flight, which will carry mannequins rather than astronauts, marks the next chapter in putting humans back on the Moon, and is the first in Nasa’s Artemis programme. Subsequent missions are expected to carry people on board, with the first crewed flight into space scheduled for 2024.
The mission duration is 42 days, three hours and 20 minutes, and in total it will travel 1.3 million miles. It will also assess whether some infrastructure can be built on and around the Moon, allowing humans to survive on another planetary body.
The UK is part of the Artemis programme, making contributions to the Lunar Gateway – a space station currently in development with the European Space Agency – working alongside the US, Europe, Canada and Japan. The nations have together developed the Artemis Accords, a set of principles to ensure a shared understanding of safe operations, use of space resources, minimising space debris and sharing scientific data.
UK Space Agency chief executive Paul Bate said that when the rocket does eventually launch “it is going to be wild”.
“Not easy, this rocket science," he tweeted. "But that’s the point, right … we are pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery."
Sustaining human life for long periods of time on space missions is a significant challenge and one that requires resources such as water, building materials and fuel. As transporting these resources into space is expensive, a key enabler of future missions will be the ability to extract and use resources from the Moon, asteroids or Mars.
"This is an incredibly hard business. We're trying to do something that hasn't been done in over 50 years, and we're doing it with new technology," Sarafin said. "Seeing smoke and fire is something that everybody enjoys. We're not going to let another hurdle deter us from trying to achieve that next step."
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