After scrapping a second attempt to get its new 30-story rocket off the ground due to a fuel leak, NASA announced on Saturday it will not try again during its current window of opportunity, which ends early next week.
Determined by the position of the Earth and Moon, the current launch period for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission ends Tuesday and is “definitely off the table,” said Jim Free, associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, at a press conference Saturday, without confirming a new date.
Millions around the globe and crowds gathered on beaches in Florida had hoped to witness the historic blastoff of the Space Launch System (SLS), but a leak near the base of the rocket was found as ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was pumped in.
The latest postponement “was the right decision after you develop this kind of leak,” astronaut Victor Glover told reporters.
The initial launch attempt on Monday was also halted after engineers detected a fuel leak and a sensor showed that one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot.
The rocket will likely have to be hauled back into its assembly building to undergo certification tests that are carried out periodically.
Early in the morning, launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson had given the go-ahead to start filling the rocket’s tanks with cryogenic fuel.
The purpose of the Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the Orion capsule, which sits atop the SLS rocket, is safe to carry astronauts in the future.
– Apollo’s twin sister –
The capsule will fire its engines to get to a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) of 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a spacecraft rated to carry humans.
On its return to Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield will have to withstand speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and a temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) — roughly half as hot as the Sun.
Unlike the Apollo missions, which sent only white men to the Moon between 1969 and 1972, Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman step foot on the lunar surface.
A government audit estimates the Artemis program’s cost will grow to $93 billion by 2025, with each of its first four missions clocking in at a whopping $4.1 billion per launch.
The crew of Artemis 3 is to land on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest, with later missions envisaging a lunar space station and a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.