After two failed attempts to launch his next-generation rocket toward the moon, The NASA says it is now eyeing a couple of dates later this month for a third attempt to get off the ground.
The launch windows for the highly anticipated Artemis I mission will open on September 23 and 27, they said NASA experts on Thursday, though there are still a number of issues that could leave the space agency looking at an October launch.
NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket was supposed to embark on its maiden flight on August 29, but a problem with one of the engines it prompted engineers to stop the countdown clock at 40 minutes from launch. A second launch attempt on September 3 was also canceled due to a hydrogen fuel leak.
NASA is aiming to fix the fuel leak problem with the rocket still on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The current plan is to verify the success of the solution by fueling the rocket on September 17. It takes four days between checkout and launch, so if the refueling date slips, and a NASA official said it might, then engineers still have a couple of days to get the procedure done in time to a liftoff on September 23.
However, there is another problem that could leave NASA having to transport the rocket back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, forcing a longer delay. These are the batteries for the rocket’s flight termination system (FTS), which is designed to destroy the rocket in mid-air if it veers off course on launch.
Current rules stipulated by Space Launch Delta 45, a Space Force unit that oversees Florida rocket launches to ensure the safety of people on land and at sea, mean FTS batteries must be charged and the system must be checked. entirely, a process that usually takes place inside the Vehicle Assembly Building and would give NASA a 20-day launch permit.
The space agency hopes the current permit will be extended to avoid having to return the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building. If NASA ends up having to remove the rocket from the launch pad, it will have to clear both September dates and look to October instead. Space launch Delta 45 is expected to announce its decision soon.
When it finally does take place, NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will propel an unmanned Orion spacecraft to the moon, where it will make a flyby before returning to Earth about six weeks later. A successful mission will pave the way for manned voyages, including the first lunar landing by astronauts in five decades.
In addition, the space agency said the two September dates were chosen to avoid any conflict with its DART mission, which will send a spacecraft crashing into an asteroid on September 26. The mission will test whether a spacecraft can change the trajectory of a large asteroid headed toward Earth, even if it is assured that the target space rock that is involved in the DART mission poses no threat to our planet.