Florida September 3 2022: NASA has once again waved off an attempt to launch its massive new moon rocket on an uncrewed test mission because of technical issues. The scrub was called at 11:17 a.m. ET, three hours before the beginning of the launch window.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said that the mission managers will hold a meeting to discuss the next steps and determine if a launch is possible on Monday or Tuesday, or if the rocket stack needs to be rolled back into the Vehicle Assembly Building.
If it is rolled back into the building, Artemis I won't have another launch opportunity until October, with mid-October being most likely due to the schedule at the launchpad, Nelson said.
That's because NASA's SpaceX Crew-5 mission is due to launch on October 3 and the early October launch window for Artemis I closes on October 4. The next window opens on October 17.
Top NASA leadership addressing VIPs at Kennedy Space Center told those gathered that they think a rollback of the Artemis moon rocket to the building is likely required in order to fix the problem that caused Saturday's launch attempt to be scrubbed, sources told CNN. This would mean the team wouldn't be able to attempt another launch for several weeks. It takes a minimum of three and a half days to roll the rocket back to the building before they could begin to work on it and then roll it back out to the pad. The agency will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. ET to share an update.
Artemis I had been slated to take off Saturday afternoon, but those plans were scrubbed after team members discovered a liquid hydrogen leak that they spent the better part of the morning trying to resolve. Liquid hydrogen is one of the propellants used in the rocket's large core stage. The leak prevented the launch team from being able to fill the liquid hydrogen tank despite trying various troubleshooting procedures.
It's the second time in a week that the space agency has been forced to halt the launch countdown in the face of technical issues. The first launch attempt, on Monday, was called off after several issues arose, including with a system meant to cool the rocket's engines ahead of liftoff and various leaks that sprung up as the rocket was being fueled.
The liquid hydrogen leak was detected Saturday at 7:15 a.m. ET in the quick disconnect cavity that feeds the rocket with hydrogen in the engine section of the core stage. It was a different leak than one that occurred ahead of the scrubbed launch on Monday.
The launch controllers warmed up the line in an attempt to get a tight seal and the flow of liquid hydrogen resumed before a leak reoccurred. They stopped the flow of liquid hydrogen and proceeded to "close the valve used to fill and drain it, then increase pressure on a ground transfer line using helium to try to reseal it," according to NASA.That troubleshooting plan was not successful. The team attempted the first plan again to warm up the line, but the leak reoccurred after they manually restarted the flow of liquid hydrogen.There was a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch, according to weather officer Melody Lovin.
The Artemis I stack, which includes the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, continues to sit on Launchpad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Artemis I mission is just the beginning of a program that will aim to return humans to the moon and eventually land crewed missions on Mars.
There is still a backup opportunity for the Artemis I mission to launch on September 5 and 6.
In the last few days, the launch team has taken time to address issues, like hydrogen leaks, that cropped up ahead of Monday's planned launch before it was scrubbed. The team has also completed a risk assessment of an engine conditioning issue and a foam crack that also cropped up, according to NASA officials.
Both were considered to be acceptable risks heading into the launch countdown, according to Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager.
On Monday, a sensor on one of the rocket's four RS-25 engines, identified as engine #3, reflected that the engine could not reach the proper temperature range required for the engine to start at liftoff.
The engines need to be thermally conditioned before super-cold propellant flows through them prior to liftoff. To prevent the engines from experiencing any temperature shocks, launch controllers gradually increase the pressure of the core stage liquid hydrogen tank in the hours before launch to send a small amount of liquid hydrogen to the engines. This is known as a "bleed.
"The team has since determined it was a bad sensor providing the reading -- they plan to ignore the faulty sensor moving forward, according to John Blevins, Space Launch Systems chief engineer.
Once Artemis I launches, Orion's journey will last 37 days as it travels to the moon, loops around it and returns to Earth -- traveling a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers).
While the passenger list doesn't include any humans, it does have passengers: three mannequins and a plush Snoopy toy will ride in Orion. The crew aboard Artemis I may sound a little unusual, but they each serve a purpose. Snoopy will serve as the zero gravity indicator -- meaning that he will begin to float inside the capsule once it reaches the space environment.
The mannequins, named Commander Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar, will measure the deep space radiation future crews could experience and test out new suit and shielding technology. A biology experiment carrying seeds, algae, fungi and yeast is also tucked inside Orion to measure how life reacts to this radiation as well.
Additional science experiments and technology demonstrations are also riding in a ring on the rocket. From there, 10 small satellites, called CubeSats, will detach and go their separate ways to collect information on the moon and the deep space environment.
Cameras inside and outside of Orion will share images and video throughout the mission, including live views from the Callisto experiment, which will capture a stream of Commander Moonikin Campos sitting in the commander's seat. And if you have an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, you can ask it about the mission's location each day.
Expect to see views of Earthrise similar to what was shared for the first time during the Apollo 8 mission back in 1968, but with much better cameras and technology.
The inaugural mission of the Artemis program will kick off a phase of NASA space exploration that intends to land diverse astronaut crews at previously unexplored regions of the moon -- on the Artemis II and Artemis III missions, slated for 2024 and 2025 respectively -- and eventually delivers crewed missions to Mars.