NASA looks forward to the next Artemis I rocket launch date, but hurdles remain

If everything works out, NASA’s New Powerful Space Launch System It could finally blast off for the first time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as soon as Friday, September 27.

The space agency has fixed a leak that called off the launch on September 3, and is now working to test that the issue has been resolved by offering to load the fuel by September 21 to be ready for a launch attempt on September 27.

“Over the weekend, Artemis I teams completed repair work on the hydrogen leakage area,” read A NASA said on Monday. “The demonstration will allow teams to confirm the hydrogen leak has been fixed, evaluate updated fuel loading procedures designed to reduce thermal stress and pressure related to the system, and conduct start bleeding testand evaluation of pre-compression procedures.

The space agency also still needs to get special permission from the US Space Force, which oversees rocket launches from Florida. NASA is required to recheck the batteries on the SLS rocket’s flight termination system, which destroys the rocket if it veers off course to prevent a threat to the public. This should happen every 25 days, and September 27th is outside that window.

The problem with NASA is that checking batteries requires recycling the SLS to the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB. This could add several days to the operation, and the SLS has only been certified to make the trip from its hangar to launch pad multiple times, according to Eric Berger of Ars Technica.

“So if they go back to the VAB this month and then come back to the plate, they only have one round trip left,” he said. Berger wrote on Twitter.

All of this means that Artemis I mission managers prefer to fix a fuel leak, pass a tank test and an explosion with the blessing of the Space Force without having to move the rocket at all.

During a press call Thursday, Jim Free, NASA’s associate director for Exploration Systems Development, confirmed that the agency had requested a waiver from Space Force that would allow the SLS to remain in place.

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If the waiver is granted and the tank parade goes well, the September 27 launch may advance with a possible backup date of October 2.

The much-anticipated debut of the SLS, the Orion Crew capsule and Artemis’ first major mission were canceled twice earlier, first on August 29 due to engine problems and then on September 3 due to a leak.

The mission will see the SLS send an unmanned Orion on a weeks-long journey around the far side of the Moon and back to return at high speed to Earth’s atmosphere followed by a machine gun landing.

Artemis 1 is designed to pave the way for the first manned Orion mission in 2024 and eventually for the return of NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon and then to Mars in the 2030s.

The 70-minute firing window On September 27, it opens at 8:37 a.m. PT, with Orion returning to Earth on November 5.