NASA is preparing for the third launch attempt of the Artemis lunar rocket

NASA is preparing for the third launch attempt of the Artemis lunar rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov 15 (Reuters) – Ground crews at Kennedy Space Center prepared on Tuesday for a third test launch of NASA’s massive next-generation moon rocket, the first flight of NASA’s Artemis lunar program the American space agency, 50 years after the last Apollo lunar mission.

The 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket was scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT) Wednesday to send its Orion capsule on a 25-day journey around the moon and return without astronauts on board.

NASA flight readiness crews were eager for success after 10 weeks plagued by technical difficulties, two hurricanes and two trips from the spacecraft’s hangar to its launch pad.

Two previous launch attempts, on August 29 and September 3, were aborted due to leaking fuel lines and other technical issues that NASA has since resolved. While docked at its launch pad last week, the rocket encountered high winds and rain from Hurricane Nicole, forcing a two-day flight postponement.

Post-storm inspections revealed the hurricane tore a strip of ultra-thin protective sealant from Orion’s exterior, but NASA officials said late Monday the damage was minor and posed negligible risk to the start.

Weather is always a factor beyond NASA’s control. Monday’s latest forecast predicted a 90% chance of favorable conditions during Wednesday’s two-hour launch window, according to the US Space Force at Cape Canaveral.

Dubbed Artemis I, the mission marks the first flight of the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule together, built under NASA contracts with Boeing Co (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), respectively.

It also signals a major shift in direction for NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades focused on low Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station. (Graphic:


Named after the Greek goddess of the hunt – and twin sister of Apollo – Artemis aims to bring astronauts back to the surface of the moon as soon as 2025.

Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only spaceflights to still place humans on the lunar surface. But Apollo, born out of the US-Soviet space race during the Cold War, was less science-driven than Artemis.

The new moon program has enlisted commercial partners such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and space agencies in Europe, Canada and Japan to eventually establish a long-term lunar base as a springboard to even more ambitious human journeys to March.

Getting the SLS-Orion spacecraft off the ground is a key first step. Its maiden voyage is meant to put the 5.75 million pound vehicle through its paces in a rigorous test flight, pushing its design limits to prove the spacecraft is fit to fly astronauts.

If the mission is successful, a crewed flight of Artemis II around the moon could take place as soon as 2024, followed in a few years by the program’s first lunar landing of astronauts, including a woman, with Artemis III.

Considered the most powerful and complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Apollo-era Saturn V.

Barring last-minute difficulties, the launch countdown is expected to end with the rocket’s four main R-25 engines and two solid rocket boosters firing up to produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust, sending the spaceship spinning towards the sky.

About 90 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s upper stage will propel Orion out of Earth’s orbit onto course for a 25-day flight that will bring it within 60 miles of the lunar surface before traveling 40,000 miles (64,374 km) beyond the moon and back to Earth. The capsule is scheduled to land in the Pacific on December 11.

Although no humans are on board, Orion will carry a simulated crew of three – one male and two female mannequins – equipped with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that real astronauts would experience.

One of the main objectives of the mission is to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield during its re-entry as it slams into Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 miles (39,429 km) per hour, or 32 times the speed sound, on its return from lunar orbit – much faster than the reentry of capsules returning from the space station.

The heat shield is designed to resist reentry friction that is expected to raise temperatures outside the capsule to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 Celsius).

Over a decade of development with years of delays and budget overruns, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has so far cost NASA at least $37 billion, including design, construction, testing and ground facilities. NASA’s Office of Inspector General has projected total Artemis costs to reach $93 billion by 2025.

NASA champions the program as a boon to space exploration that has generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade.

Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Fla. and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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