KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The next Artemis I moon rocket launch attempt is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3, NASA mission managers announced Tuesday evening at a teleconference.
Earlier on Tuesday, the mission managers met to decide if they wanted to go ahead with a second launch attempt at the next available opportunity — which was previously slated for Friday at 12:48 p.m. — or wait because the problems they encountered during Monday’s countdown might be too much to fix at the launchpad.
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“We... agreed to move our launch date to Saturday, (Sept. 3). We are going to reconvene the mission management team on Thursday, (Sept. 1), to review our flight rationale and our over overall readiness,” Artemis I mission manager Mike Serafin said.
The 2-hour window for the 37-day mission will open at 2:17 p.m. Saturday and NASA forecaster Mark Burger said he’s optimistic the weather will clear up that afternoon for the launch. Forecasters downgraded the likelihood of a weather violation to about 40%.
“Weather will be a little bit different than what we experienced (Monday, Aug. 29). We will have a fairly strong onshore flow and so that does favor showers and possibly a few thunderstorms moving in from the coasts during the morning and early afternoon hours,” Burger said at the teleconference. “So we’ll have to watch that as far as tanking. But otherwise, typically with that kind of regime, we tend to have the sea breeze pushed well inland and that’s the main focus for showers, thunderstorm development during the afternoon.”
The mission, which is part of NASA’s Artemis project to bring astronauts back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago, could be delayed until mid-September or later if Saturday’s attempt is scrubbed, according to the Associated Press.
It was mostly one thing that stopped the show Monday morning—the launch team couldn’t chill down one of the engines. But there were also three other problems plaguing the countdown.
Serafin said early on in the countdown the launch team encountered a hydrogen leak “at the 8-inch quick disconnect, which is our fill and drain.”
That was the first problem — another hydrogen leak at another fueling connection point. The launch team solved that by slowing down the filling of the tank.
The second problem:
“(The launch team) also saw an issue at the vent valve at the intertank,” Serafin said.
The vent valve is necessary to chill down the engine so it isn’t shocked by the super-cold liquid hydrogen fuel (-423 degrees) at startup, which was the third problem: Engine #3 wouldn’t chill down because it wasn’t bleeding hydrogen from the tank into the engine.
The fourth problem was the other engines were chilling down but not enough, according to Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator and Exploration Systems Development Director.
“The others weren’t as low as we would like to,” Free said. “So there’s some things going on.”
The big question: Are those four things something engineers can fix on the pad? Or will NASA have to roll back the rocket into the giant hangar, the Vehicle Assembly Building, to work on them?
CBS News Space Analyst Bill Harwood said it depends on where the problems are and what NASA has to do to fix them.
“The thing about this rocket is there’s very little access at the launchpad,” Harwood said. “So if you have to open up things to get inside the rocket, like inside that cramped engine compartment at the bottom of the rocket or anywhere up higher on the rocket, you just can’t do it. If a physical repair is involved that’s likely a rollback.”
NASA did not know most of the problems would pop up because during their four practice countdowns, or “Wet Dress Rehearsals,” the launch team never got that far into the countdown.
Instead of trying a fifth rehearsal, the launch team decided on trying to launch. Free said they didn’t want to put wear on the mega-rocket by rolling it back to the VAB.
“We still would have taken another cycle of rolling out and back, and you’re going to learn every time you come out here,” Free said. “How many times did the Apollo vehicles come out and tested prior to launch? How many times did they scrub?”
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