NASA fuels Artemis rocket for third attempt to launch to the moon

After repeated gas leaks, two hurricanes and a pair of launch delays, engineers refueled NASA’s $4.1 billion Space Launch System rocket for a third launch strive early Wednesday. The Artemis 1 launch would kick off a long-awaited maiden flight to ship an uncrewed Orion capsule to circle the moon.

A two-hour launch window opens at 1:04 a.m. EST.

Using a slower, so-called “kindler, gentler” fueling process to reduce stress spikes that contributed to earlier leaks, the launch group started loading 730,000 gallons of ultra-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen gas for the SLS core stage at 3:55 p.m. EST.

The Space Launch System rocket, poised for blastoff from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.


Engineers have been optimistic the new procedures would guarantee a easy transition from sluggish to “fast fill,” the level throughout earlier fueling makes an attempt when a pointy ramp-up in stress brought on leakage in quick-disconnect umbilical seals at the base of the rocket’s core stage.

“We are more confident than we have ever been in our loading procedures and how to do it in such a way that puts the least amount of pressure on the seals,” mentioned Jeremy Parsons, deputy supervisor of Exploration Ground Systems at the Kennedy Space Center.

“We’re allowed to have a momentary transient as we up (the) pressure, because … it would just be for a short time period. And that’s really the worst case that we saw during (the most recent) tanking test. So feeling pretty good right now about that going into it.”

This time round, the rocket’s tanks have been crammed with out incident. But late in the countdown, a valve used to replenish hydrogen in the core stage developed an intermittent leak. A 3-man “red crew” was despatched to the pad to tighten bolts round the valve in a bid to reduce the leakage and hold the countdown on monitor.

Engineers remained hopeful the 322-foot-tall SLS’s 4 hydrogen-fueled principal engines might ignite on time at 1:04 a.m. Wednesday, adopted seconds later by ignition of two upgraded shuttle-heritage solid-fuel boosters.

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At that immediate, computer instructions might be despatched to detonate 4 huge explosive bolts at the base of every booster, releasing the 5.7-million pound SLS to climb away atop 8.8 million kilos of thrust, briefly turning evening into day because it roars skyward on a barely northeasterly trajectory.

Rapidly accelerating because it consumes propellant and loses weight, the SLS was anticipated to be shifting sooner than sound much less that one minute after liftoff. One minute after that, the two strap-on boosters have been anticipated to burn out and fall away leaving the 4 engines powering the core stage to proceed the climb to space.

Eight minutes after liftoff, the flight plan referred to as for the the SLS second stage and the connected Orion capsule to separate from the core stage in an preliminary elliptical orbit tilted 34 levels to the equator. The core stage, in the meantime, might be left to fall again into the ambiance to break up over an unpopulated stretch of the Indian Ocean.

Two essential “burns” have been required of the single engine powering the Interim Cryogenic Propulsions Stage, or ICPS: one to elevate the low level of the preliminary orbit and a second to propel the Orion out of Earth’s gravitational clutch and on to the moon. The 18-minute-long trans-lunar injection, or TLI, burn was anticipated about 90 minutes after launch.

The Orion capsule was anticipated to separate from the ICPS about two hours after launch, voyaging on to the moon for a 60-mile-high flyby Monday, utilizing lunar gravity to fling it right into a distant orbit that can carry it farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft.

The Artemis 1 mission is the first in a collection of SLS/Orion flights meant to set up a sustained presence on and round the moon with a lunar space station referred to as Gateway and periodic landings close to the south pole the place ice deposits could also be reachable in chilly, completely shadowed craters.

Future astronauts might find a way to “mine” that ice if it is current and accessible, changing it into air, water and even rocket gas to vastly scale back the value of deep space exploration.

More usually, Artemis astronauts will perform prolonged exploration and analysis to be taught extra about the moon’s origin and evolution and take a look at the {hardware} and procedures that might be obligatory earlier than sending astronauts to Mars.

Oxygen and hydrogen gas strains enter the Space Launch System rocket’s core stage via retractable umbilicals extending from protecting housings referred to as tail service masts (left). Leaking seals in quick-disconnect fittings the place the umbilicals connect to the core stage triggered a number of delays throughout the rocket’s testing. Engineers have been optimistic revised fueling procedures will stop problematic leaks throughout fueling Wednesday.


The objective of the Artemis 1 mission is to put the Orion spacecraft via its paces, testing its solar energy, propulsion, navigation and life assist methods earlier than a return to Earth December 11 and a 25,000-mph plunge again into the ambiance that can topic its protecting warmth defend to a hellish 5,000 levels.

Testing the warmth defend and confirming it could possibly defend astronauts getting back from deep space is the No. 1 precedence of the Artemis 1 mission.

If all goes properly with Artemis 1, NASA plans to launch a second SLS rocket in late 2024 to increase 4 astronauts on a looping free-return trajectory round the moon earlier than touchdown the first lady and the subsequent man on the lunar floor close to the south pole in the Artemis 3 mission.

That flight, focused for launch in the 2025-26 timeframe, relies on the readiness of latest spacesuits for NASA’s moonwalkers and a lander being constructed by SpaceX that is based mostly on the design of the company’s reusable Starship rocket.

SpaceX is engaged on the lander underneath a $2.9 billion contract with NASA, however the company has offered little in the manner of particulars or updates and it isn’t but recognized when NASA and the California rocket builder will truly be prepared for the Artemis 3 lunar touchdown mission.

But if the Artemis 1 take a look at flight is profitable, NASA can verify off its requirement for a super-heavy-lift rocket to get the preliminary missions off the floor and on to the moon.

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