After two scrubbed launch attempts for Artemis I, viewers worldwide are eager to know how NASA plans to get the mission back on track. Artemis plans to send the first woman and the first person of color to the lunar surface and to begin the process of developing a waystation to facilitate the kind of deep-space exploration that has historically been the purview of science fiction. However, already years behind schedule and billions over budget, the space agency will need to overcome its latest setbacks if they want to begin the exciting work ahead.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Artemis I was scheduled to launch last month, but a relatively minor hydrogen leak and a false temperature reading from a faulty sensor delayed proceedings enough that the team had to stand down. Then, at the second attempt on Sept. 3, engineers repeatedly could not resolve a more serious hydrogen leak at an interface between the liquid hydrogen fuel feed line and the SLS, known as a quick disconnect. The setbacks meant NASA missed its original launch window, postponing future efforts until the end of September at the earliest.
Related: What Goals Does NASA’s Artemis I Hope To Accomplish?
The next possible launch window is fast approaching, but NASA will have to adjust the SLS system before they can try again. According to a recent NASA blog post, engineers are making progress in replacing two seals, which have been performing poorly, and making other adjustments. The team has elected to repair the SLS on the launch pad, theorizing that it’s best to resolve the problem where it happened. By making the repairs in place, experts hope to avoid the wear-and-tear on the equipment caused by relocating the apparatus to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Perhaps more importantly, the time it would take to transfer the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket would further delay the launch, pushing it into October at the earliest. If all goes well, the team hopes to launch as soon as Sept. 23 or Sept. 27, although NASA is not yet committing to a date. To meet that target, NASA also needs an extension of the current testing requirement for the flight termination system from the Space Force, which manages the Eastern Range, and to be conscious of other scheduled NASA events, like the DART asteroid collision on Sept. 26.
The Trouble With Hydrogen
Nearly every issue with the SLS relates to its propellant, which is a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The resulting fuel is extremely powerful but also famously challenging to work with. Hydrogen is the smallest and lightest known molecule in the universe. While its lightness makes it ideal for rocket fuel, its minuscule size has a downside: it can slip through openings so small as to be nearly undetectable. The space shuttle program, which also used hydrogen fuel, was notorious for leak-related scrubs, so the ongoing issues with the SLS should be no surprise. NASA cannot operate without funding authorization from Congress, but in 2010 that authorization stipulated that future launch systems be built on the shuttle program’s existing technologies. As a result, the SLS is using engines salvaged from the retired shuttles. Hydrogen leaks have been a perennial thorn in the side of the SLS just as it was for the shuttles, halting wet dress rehearsals in April and June of this year and now contributing to two scrubs.
As the first launch of a new era of lunar exploration, the Artemis I launch will set the tone for America’s return to the Moon. More than fifty years have elapsed since the last Apollo astronauts departed the Moon in 1972. With sky-high expectations and the world watching, teams will continue prepping NASA’s mega-rocket for lift-off, eager to get back on track as soon as possible.