UNITED STATES: On Saturday afternoon, NASA will attempt to launch its ground-breaking Artemis 1 moon rocket once more after announcing that it had found and resolved the engine problem that had forced the cancellation of the first attempt five days earlier.
Fifty years after the last Apollo lunar mission, NASA’s ambitious moon-to-Mars programme Artemis was scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT) with the 32-story-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion capsule.
The countdown was stopped when the previous attempt on Monday failed due to technical difficulties, and the unmanned flight was postponed.
A faulty fuel line that contributed to Monday’s postponed launch was found to have been rectified, according to tests, said Jeremy Parsons, a deputy programme manager at the space centre, briefed reporters on Friday.
According to Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin, two additional significant problems with the rocket, including a malfunctioning engine temperature sensor and several cracks in insulation foam, have been satisfactorily fixed.
Another element that NASA cannot control is the weather. According to the U.S. Space Force at Cape Canaveral, the most recent forecast indicated a 70% chance of favourable conditions during Saturday’s two-hour launch window.
NASA might organise a new launch attempt for Monday or Tuesday if the countdown clock stops once more.
A major shift in NASA’s strategy
The SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, which were made as part of NASA contracts with Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., respectively, made their first flights on the mission known as Artemis I.
After years of concentrating on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station, it also represents a significant shift in the course of NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program.
The Artemis mission, named for the goddess who, in Greek mythology, was Apollo’s twin sister, hopes to send astronauts back to the moon as early as 2025.
Six Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972, during which twelve men performed moonwalks, remain the only space missions to date to successfully land humans on the surface of the moon.
However, Artemis was more science-focused than Apollo, which was a product of the Cold War space rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR.
To eventually construct a long-term lunar base of operations as a stepping stone to even more ambitious human journeys to Mars, the new moon programme has sought the help of commercial partners like SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada, and Japan.
The SLS-Orion spacecraft must first launch, which is a crucial first step. The 5.75 million pound spacecraft will undergo a tough test flight on its initial trip to stretch its design limits and, hopefully, demonstrate that it can carry astronauts.
If the mission is successful, a crewed Artemis II voyage around the moon and back might happen as early as 2024. A few years later, Artemis III will make the program’s first manned lunar landing, including a woman.
The SLS is the largest new vertical launch vehicle the U.S. space agency has created since the Saturn V of the Apollo period and is advertised as the most powerful, complicated rocket in the world.
After Saturday’s countdown, the rocket’s four primary R-25 engines and its twin solid rocket boosters should ignite to launch the spacecraft into orbit with 8.8 million pounds of thrust, or roughly 15% more thrust than the Saturn V.
Orion will be propelled into lunar orbit by the rocket’s upper stage about 90 minutes after liftoff, beginning a 37-day journey that will send it to within 60 miles of the moon’s surface before it travels 40,000 miles (64,374 km) beyond the moon and back to Earth. On October 11, the capsule is anticipated to splash down in the Pacific.
No humans aboard
Orion will carry a simulated crew of three, consisting of one male and two female mannequins, equipped with sensors to assess radiation levels and other pressures that actual astronauts would encounter, even though there won’t be any humans on board.
One of the main goals of the mission is to test the heat shield’s resilience as Orion returns to Earth from the moon at 24,500 mph (39,429 km/h), or 32 times the speed of sound, which is substantially faster than the more typical re-entry of spacecraft from Earth orbit.
The heat shield is made to endure friction from re-entry, which should cause the outside of the capsule to heat up to over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 Celsius).
The SLS-Orion spacecraft has already cost NASA at least $37 billion, including design, construction, testing, and ground facilities. Its development has taken more than ten years and has been plagued by delays and budget overruns for years.
The Office of Inspector General at NASA has estimated that the entire cost of Artemis will reach $93 billion by 2025. According to NASA’s defence, tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity have been created as a result of the programme.
Also Read: NASA Artemis-1 Launch: All You Need to Know