TITUSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — The second attempt to launch NASA’s Artemis I mission from Kennedy Space Center has been scrubbed for Saturday.
The Artemis I mission management team tried to launch the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft Saturday afternoon. Artemis I will launch the SLS rocket – also called the mega moon rocket – and send the Orion spacecraft on a 37-day, 1.3-million mile test flight around the moon.
But as teams prepared to get the mission off the ground Saturday morning, they discovered a hydrogen line leak. NASA made three attempts to remedy the leak issue but were unable to.
“During tanking of the Artemis I mission, a leak developed in the supply side of the 8-inch quick disconnect while attempting to transfer fuel to the rocket,” NASA said. “Attempts to fix it so far have been unsuccessful.”
NASA’s launch team recommended a “no go” around 11 a.m. It was later officially scrubbed, the second time this week. The first attempt to launch was scrubbed Monday morning after NASA ran into several technical issues leading up to the launch window.
What went wrong?
Mission managers met several times this week to discuss Monday’s problems and analyze data recorded during the countdown before the mission was scrubbed. The team decided to move forward with a Saturday afternoon launch attempt. They did, however, update their procedures and timeline in response to Monday’s main issue involving one of the rocket engines apparently failing to cool down enough for launch.
“Teams will adjust the procedures to chill down the engines, also called the kick start bleed test, about 30 to 45 minutes earlier in the countdown during the liquid hydrogen fast fill phase for the core stage,” NASA explained. “This will to allow for additional time to cool the engines to appropriate temperatures for launch.”
SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt said he believes Monday’s problem was actually caused by a faulty sensor and expressed confidence that the four main engines are good to go.
“The way the sensor is behaving does not line up with the physics of the situation,” he said.
In a launch forecast released Friday, meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force said the weather near Kennedy Space Center appears about 60% favorable early Saturday afternoon. Conditions are expected to improve as the day goes on.
“This should allow the east-coast sea breeze to form scattered showers in the early afternoon Saturday, but gradually push the activity westward during the late afternoon hours, away from the Spaceport,” the forecast said. “The timing of the launch window will be during this transition.”
Meteorologists said the main concerns during the launch window will be the cumulus cloud rule and the surface electric fields rule.
“Basically, the weather looks good. I wouldn’t be shocked if there are periods where we are technically ‘red’ for weather,” Space Launch Delta 45 Weather Officer Melody Lovin said Thursday. “But the bottom line is that I don’t expect weather to be a showstopper.”
NASA has a list of weather criteria that must be met in order to go ahead with a launch. The agency watches for temperature, wind, precipitation, lightning, clouds and solar activity.
If the launch has to be scrubbed again on Saturday, the earliest NASA could make another attempt would be Monday.
“With all scrubs, it depends on the reason you scrub. That really drives your turnaround,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “But provided that it was a weather issue, we are driven by replenishment of our commodities – hydrogen being the primary driver. We could go as soon as Monday, so 48 hours in our turnaround.”
Launch Pad 39B, the pad that Artemis I will launch from, is the same pad Apollo 10 launched from. The Apollo program was the last time humans stepped foot on the moon, more than 50 years ago. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo.
Under the new Artemis program, NASA plans to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon. NASA is looking to establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface and use what they learn to eventually send astronauts to Mars.
Artemis I is NASA’s first step when it comes to achieving the goals of the Artemis program. It is an uncrewed mission, meaning there will be no humans on the flight. NASA calls it “the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the moon for decades to come.”
“The mission will demonstrate the performance of the SLS rocket and test Orion’s capabilities over the course of about six weeks as it travels about 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth,” NASA explained.
On its website, NASA explains that the main goals of the mission are to “demonstrate Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment” and to “ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown and recovery.” This will help when it comes to future missions – including Artemis II, which will be the program’s first crewed flight around the moon.
Artemis I marks the first “integrated test” of NASA’s deep space exploration system. If the mission launches Saturday, NASA is looking at a splashdown on Oct. 11.
Deep space exploration system
The SLS rocket and Orion, along with the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center, make up NASA’s deep space exploration system.
The SLS rocket is described by NASA as the world’s most powerful rocket. According to the agency, it is the only rocket that can currently send the Orion spacecraft to the moon safely.
“SLS is designed specifically for deep space missions with humans and will send the Orion spacecraft to the moon, which is nearly 1,000 times farther than where the International Space Station resides in low-Earth orbit,” NASA said. “The rocket will provide the power to help Orion reach a speed of 22,600 mph, to escape the pull of Earth’s gravity [and] send the spacecraft to the moon.”
Orion, the spacecraft that will launch atop the SLS rocket, was designed to carry humans to deep space, according to NASA. The agency says it was “specifically designed to sustain humans hundreds of thousands of miles from home.”