Mission managers were still “going” for a Saturday afternoon launch of the 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion space capsule to kick off NASA’s Moon-to-Mars Artemis program, successor to the Apollo moon missions for half a century. ago, NASA officials said.
Tests conducted Friday night showed that technicians appeared to have fixed a leaking fuel line, which contributed to NASA’s decision to halt Monday’s first launch, Jeremy Parsons, a deputy program manager at the space center, told reporters Friday. .
Two other major issues with the rocket itself — a faulty engine temperature sensor and some cracks in insulating foam — have been largely resolved, Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters on Thursday evening.
Melody Lovin, a US Space Force launch weather officer at Cape Canaveral, said the forecast gave a 70% chance of favorable conditions during Saturday’s two-hour launch window, which begins at 2:17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT), and also for a reservation launch time on Monday.
“The weather still looks pretty good for the launch attempt on Saturday,” Lovin said. “I don’t expect the weather to be a show-stopper for either launch window.”
But, she added, the odds of a launch being canceled on any given day for weather or whatever reason are about one in three.
Named Artemis I, the mission is the maiden voyage for both the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, built under NASA contracts with Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, respectively.
The SLS will launch Orion around the moon and back on a 37-day unmanned test flight, intended to test both vehicles before flying astronauts in another mission, scheduled for 2024.
If the first two Artemis missions succeed, NASA aims to land astronauts on the moon as early as 2025, including the first woman to set foot on the moon’s surface, although many experts believe that timeframe is likely to be pushed back by a few years.
Twelve astronauts have walked on the moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only spaceflights to date to have placed humans on the lunar surface.
Apollo emerged from the US-Soviet space race of the Cold War, while NASA’s renewed focus on the moon is more science-driven and includes international partnerships with the space agencies of Europe, Japan and Canada, and with commercial rocket companies such as SpaceX. .
Unlike the Apollo, the final flights to the moon are intended to create a long-term sustainable base on the lunar surface and in orbit, as a springboard for possible human expeditions to Mars.
NASA’s first step is to launch the SLS, the largest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket.
If the Artemis I mission is delayed again for some reason, NASA could try again on Monday or Tuesday. After that, the spacecraft would likely need to be rolled back to its assembly building before another launch attempt can be made, Parsons said, because there are rules limiting how long a rocket can stay in its launch tower. Such a move would involve a delay longer than a few days or a week.
The SLS and Orion have been in development for more than a decade, with years of delays and mounting costs, reaching at least $37 billion until last year. But the Artemis program has also created tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade for the aerospace industry, according to NASA.