NASA nears second attempt to launch Artemis moon rocket in first test flight

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Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sept. 2 (Reuters) – The ground-based team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida kicked off the final drive on Friday on the eve of the second attempt to launch NASA’s giant next-generation lunar rocket for the debut. After a full day of launch preparations for the test flight, technical problems thwarted initial attempts five days later.

Mission managers are still “going off” Saturday afternoon to launch the 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion capsule to kick off NASA’s Moon-to-Mars Artemis program, the Apollo moon landing. The mission’s successor, NASA officials said, half a century ago.

The space center’s deputy program manager, Jeremy Parsons, told reporters Friday that tests conducted Thursday night showed technicians appeared to have repaired a leaking fuel line, which led to NASA’s decision to halt Monday’s first launch operation. .

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Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters late Thursday that two other critical issues with the rocket itself — a malfunctioning engine temperature sensor and some cracks in the insulating foam — had been largely resolved.

The forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions during the two-hour Saturday launch window, which ends at 2:17 p.m. ET, said Melody Lovin, launch weather officer for the U.S. Space Force at Cape Canaveral. (1817 GMT) open since as well as Monday’s backup start time.

“The weather is still looking very good for Saturday’s launch attempt,” Lowen said. “I don’t think the weather will be a deterrent for either launch window.”

Still, she added, the chance of a launch being canceled on any given day due to weather or whatever is about one in three.

The mission, called Artemis I, marks the maiden voyage of the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, which are based on NASA’s plans with Boeing Co (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), respectively. contract build.

SLS will launch Orion around the moon and return for a 37-day uncrewed test flight, designed to allow both vehicles to get through their paces on subsequent missions in 2024 before flying astronauts.

If the first two Artemis missions are successful, NASA aims to return astronauts to the moon, including the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface as early as 2025, although many experts believe the time frame could be pushed back by a few years .

From 1969 to 1972, 12 astronauts walked on the moon on six Apollo missions, the only spaceflight to date to put humans on the lunar surface.

Apollo was born out of the Cold War-era U.S.-Soviet space race, while NASA’s renewed focus on the moon was driven more by science, including international partnerships with space agencies in Europe, Japan and Canada, as well as commercial rocket ventures such as SpaceX.

Unlike the Apollo program, the latest lunar flight aims to establish a long-term, sustainable base of operations on the lunar surface and in lunar orbit as a stepping stone to the eventual human exploration of Mars.

NASA’s first step is to launch the ground using the SLS, the largest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket.

If the Artemis I mission is delayed again for any reason, NASA can try again on Monday or Tuesday. After that, rules limiting how long a rocket can stay in its launch tower could require the spacecraft to roll back into its assembly building before another liftoff attempt, Parsons said. Such a move would involve a delay longer than a few days or a week.

SLS and Orion have been in development for more than a decade, and years of delays and ballooning costs have reached at least $37 billion as of last year. But the Artemis program has also created tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in business value for the aerospace industry, according to NASA.

(This story corrects the date of the fuel line test to Thursday night in paragraph 3)

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Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Joey Roulette in Palm Beach.Florida, edited by Rosalba O’Brien

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