NASA has announced a third launch attempt for its mega moon rocket.’
NASA’s “mega moon rocket” will now attempt its third liftoff on September 27, the US space agency has announced.
The Artemis 1 rocket, which consists of the six-person Orion capsule perched atop the 30-story Space Launch System (SLS) dubbed the “mega moon rocket,” was originally scheduled to launch on Aug. 29 on its maiden voyage to the moon and back.
However, the rocket’s first two attempts at liftoff were unsuccessful due to technical difficulties. The rocket’s first attempt was canceled by NASA because engineers were unable to cool one of the rocket’s four core stage RS-25 engines to a safe temperature in time for liftoff. The agency announced that it had resolved the issue, which it attributed to a faulty temperature sensor.
The leak occurred at a “quick disconnect” point where the SLS core stage met the fuel line from the rocket’s mobile launch tower, which NASA repaired by replacing two seals at the leak site. According to the US space agency, the earliest launch opportunity will be on September 27, with a backup opportunity on October 2. On September 17, NASA engineers intend to demonstrate that the leak has been repaired by pumping propellant into the craft.
“The updated dates reflect careful consideration of multiple logistical topics, including the added value of having more time to prepare for the cryogenic demonstration test, and thus more time to prepare for the launch,” NASA officials wrote in a blog post announcing the new launch date.
Orion will fly by the moon twice, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface, and will travel as far as 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) beyond the moon before returning to Earth 38 days after launch.
NASA has loaded three mannequins onto the capsule to test radiation and heat levels during the flight. A Snoopy soft toy is also on board as a zero-gravity indicator, floating around inside the capsule.
When Orion returns, it will be hotter and faster than any space vehicle before it, reaching temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound. This will put the capsule’s ablative heat shield to the test, which, along with the craft’s parachute, will use air friction to slow Orion down to 20 mph (32.2 km/h), after which it should safely land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, ready for retrieval.
Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 will be launched in 2024 and 2025/2026, respectively.
Artemis 2 will travel to the moon’s south pole with a four-person human crew, while Artemis 3 will send the first woman and first person of color.
Before the second launch attempt, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told BBC Radio 4 that the test mission will spur technological innovation and be a critical next step in humanity’s exploration of the cosmos.
“This time, we’re not just going to land [on the Moon] and leave after a few hours or days — we’re going back to learn, to live, to work, to explore, to determine if there’s water; therefore, on the [moon’s] south pole, that would mean we have rocket fuel, we have a gas station,” Nelson explained. “This time, we’re going to learn how to live in that hostile environment for extended periods of time in order to go to Mars.”
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