Samantha Masunaga/Los Angeles Times (TNS)
NASA’s return to the moon will have to wait a little longer after the first uncrewed launch of its Space Launch System rocket was canceled Monday morning due to an engine problem.
The system that thermally conditions the engines failed to cool one of the rocket’s core-stage engines to the proper temperature, which is needed to start the engines and run them successfully, Mike said. Sarafin, head of the Artemis I mission at National Aeronautics and Space Management. There was also a problem with a valve.
NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket was scheduled to launch for the first time at 8:33 a.m. Eastern Time from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The next possible launch time is Friday, and engineers are analyzing the data to understand the issues, he said.
“It’s a brand new rocket. It won’t fly until it’s ready,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters after the cleanup. “There are millions of components of this rocket and its systems, and it goes without saying that the complexity is daunting when you put it all in the center of a countdown.”
The towering rocket will propel the Orion crew capsule – with no crew on board – 280,000 miles from Earth into a distant orbit around the moon. The capsule is expected to crash off San Diego.
The launch is set to be the first of NASA’s Artemis lunar program – named after the Greek moon goddess and twin sister of the sun god Apollo. The 42-day mission aims to push the capsule to its limits to ensure it is ready to carry a crew on future missions.
The next Artemis mission, scheduled for 2024 at the earliest, is expected to carry a crew around the moon. By 2025 or later, Artemis III is expected to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon.
“I’m a product of the Apollo generation, and look what it’s done for us,” said Bob Cabana, NASA associate administrator and former astronaut, who said he attended the Apollo launch as a young midshipman. of navy. “I can’t wait to see what comes from the Artemis generation because I think it’s going to inspire even more than Apollo.”
The debut of the Space Launch System rocket took years – and billions of dollars – to prepare.
The SLS rocket, built by Boeing Co., was originally slated for launch in November 2018. But development delays and COVID-related work slowdowns pushed the launch further and further.
It will now launch nearly four years after schedule and will cost an additional $3 billion for a total development cost of $11.5 billion, according to a 2020 report from the US Government Accountability Office.
While SLS was under development, the American commercial space industry continued to grow. Companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance joint venture are working to build larger rockets that could play a role in future lunar missions.
For now, NASA has said it will rely on the SLS rocket to launch its Artemis missions. But if those other rockets are successful and come at a lower price, the space agency may have a choice to make, said Laura Forczyk, executive director of space consultancy Astralytical.
“It might be more feasible and affordable to have another pitcher complement or replace it,” she said.
With the Artemis program, NASA’s ultimate goal is to establish a long-term presence on the Moon, conduct more research, and prepare astronauts to live and work in space, skills that will be important. for missions to Mars.
Planetary scientists are particularly interested in the Artemis III lunar landing mission because it will occur at the moon’s south pole – a location very different from the lunar equator, where the Apollo missions have been focused.
Samples of lunar rock from the south pole will help scientists better understand the history of the moon and its role in forming the Earth, said Miki Nakajima, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester who studies planetary objects, including including the moon.
“The Apollo mission was truly amazing, and we still benefit from it,” she said. “But it wasn’t perfect. By understanding the Moon much better, we can understand the Earth.”