Artemis I It won’t go to the Moon today. But Friday is still a possibility.
On Monday, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was the center of public attention. The day marked the first launch attempt for its Artemis I mission, whose rocket is taller than the Statue of Liberty and promised more thrust than the Apollo-era Saturn V. But the long-awaited debut flight of NASA’s Artemis Program, which promises further manned flights to the lunar environment, was stymied by some problems.
The threat of precipitation and lightning could have eventually stopped the launch, Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin admitted to a roomful of reporters at 1 pm ET. But the end of the fueling process in T-minus 40 minutes meant they would never find it. Weather delayed the tank for about an hour, but then it got going.
The disheartening problem appeared during fueling. The number three engine conditioning procedure did not work. Since it wouldn’t cool down to a suitable temperature, teams risked electrocuting the engine if they pumped ultrafrigid propellant through it.
Here is the background – Although NASA had conducted four wet-suit rehearsals to practice their fuel procedures, they did not finish the terminal count during the last one on June 20. Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said Monday that the team didn’t need to do another test for a few reasons.
Free expressed that what they had not yet faced could be addressed on launch day. A new wet dress rehearsal would require unnecessary additional time and energy to recalibrate Artemis I for testing. And green-running tests of the engines at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi produced results that made the team confident in what they might see on launch day. But what happened during the green race test is not what they saw today.
Free said they will look at the results of today’s launch attempt and see how and why the two performances differ. Current data makes them relatively confident that the problem is not with the engine itself.
The hundreds of thousands of pounds of fuel would have sent the spacecraft on a trip around the Earth and then hurtled toward the Moon on a 42-day journey. The huge amount of cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen is funneled into Artemis I in more than one step.
Other problems – As the team entered the fast fill phase, they also found a leak at the eight-inch quick disconnect, the interface that connects the umbilical fuel line to the rocket. But they were able to overcome this problem and it was largely mitigated, Sarafin said.
Propellant loading continued until the rocket’s two main fuel centers were full. They are the core stage (the bottom of the rocket) that would start the Moonshot, and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (the top) that would take over the final leg of the journey.
Another headache was also a problem with a vent valve. NASA maintains a blog to provide the public with ongoing updates on Artemis, and on Monday the agency wrote that teams were evaluating “a crack in the thermal protection system” at one of the engine’s connection joints inside the core stage, known as bridle.
Whats Next – “It’s too early to say what the options are,” Sarafin said. He said that at 3:00 pm ET on Tuesday there is a meeting to determine the next steps.
Sarafin said the team is tired, but will now rest “to come back fresh tomorrow.”
They hope there will be no need to take Artemis I back to KSC’s vehicle assembly building.
Friday is the earliest Artemis I could launch, though that might be overkill considering today’s results. “We need time to see all the data,” he said, adding that they want to “play all nine innings and not give up yet” for a weekend flight.