Sunday, June 11

Artemis 1 rocket fuel load dress test fails

The Artemis 1 rocket on the launch pad. / POT

Science | Space

The launcher will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral for repairs that could delay the liftoff of the first mission back to the Moon to July.

Luis Alfonso Gamez

The largest rocket ever built will return next week to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for repairs after failing the wet dress rehearsal of the Artemis 1 mission. During the tests, the 111-meter launcher had to have refueled, rehearsed the countdown and emptied the tanks. However, failures during the propellant filling have forced NASA to suspend the tests.

The launcher and the Orion capsule were transferred on March 18 to platform 39B at Cape Canaveral for what was expected to be the last tests before the launch of the first mission of the new US lunar program. Artemisa 1 will be the first joint test of the new space launch system (SLS) – made up of a rocket and two thrusters – and the Orion capsule, with capacity for four astronauts. After being delayed several times, the unmanned flight was scheduled for mid-June.

The wet dress rehearsal began on April 1. It was supposed to last 48 hours, after which the rocket and capsule would return to the assembly building for pre-liftoff tune-up. However, technicians tried three times to fill the SLS with fuel without success and detected two faults in the system: a defective valve in the mobile platform and a hydrogen leak in one of the lines that connect it to the rocket. Given the situation, the agency announced late Monday that the ship will be moved next week to the assembly building for repairs.

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Up to 4.1 billion per mission

“The lunar megarocket continues to perform very well. The valve is literally the only real issue we’ve seen so far. We are very proud of the rocket. But we have a little more work ahead of us,” Tom Whitmeyer, NASA deputy administrator, told a news conference. Once the launcher has been fine-tuned, a general wet rehearsal will be carried out, after which the final touches will be made before take-off. In the agency they recognize that it will be difficult for Artemis 1 to launch in mid-June and they believe that, if there are no more failures, it could take off in July.

In that first mission, the Orion capsule will go empty, will orbit the satellite and will come up to about 100 kilometers from its surface. Artemis 2, already a manned flight, will take place at the earliest in May 2024 and, in it, four astronauts will orbit the Moon. NASA forecasts suggest that the first woman to step on the Earth’s satellite will do so “not before 2025.” Faced with this, experts have doubted from the beginning the realism of that calendar and placed the new moon landings in the second half of this decade.

As recently revealed by Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general, the approximate cost of each mission in the Artemis program could amount to 4.1 billion dollars, more than double what was initially estimated.

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