Delayed NASA Artemis 1 Moon Mission Set For Saturday Launch

Concept image of Artemis I launch. Image: NASA

After delay on Monday, NASA slates Saturday for test launch of Artemis I rocket, intended to eventually take humans back to the Moon

US space agency NASA reschedules its delayed launch of the Artemis 1 test flight, that seeks to return humanity to the Moon again.

On Monday NASA called off the highly anticipated first flight of its Space Launch System following a series of problems with fuelling procedures.

Engineers were unable to chill one of the four booster rocket’s RS-25 engines (engine 3) to the correct temperature using liquid hydrogen, which is kept at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (-252C).

Space Launch System Artemis I on launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image: NASA
Space Launch System Artemis I on launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image: NASA

Test flight

NASA also saw a hydrogen leak on a component of the tail service mast umbilical quick disconnect, called the purge can, and managed the leak by manually adjusting propellant flow rates.

On Tuesday, after the launch was delayed because of these problem, NASA announced that the launch has been rescheduled for a two hour window on Saturday, 3 September from 19:17 (BST) or 2:17 pm EDT.

The launch of Artemis I will be the first integrated test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the ground systems at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA engineers are spending the time before the Saturday launch to modify and practice propellant loading procedures to follow a procedure similar to what was successfully performed during the Green Run at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

NASA said the updated procedures “would perform the chilldown test of the engines, also called the kick start bleed test, about 30 to 45 minutes earlier in the countdown during the liquid hydrogen fast fill liquid phase for the core stage.”

The space agency also said its teams are configuring platforms at Launch Pad 39B to enable engineers access to the purge can on the tail service mast umbilical. Once access is established, technicians will perform assessments and torque connection points where necessary.

So why Saturday?

Well meteorologists predict favourable weather conditions for Saturday. While rain showers are expected, they are expected to be sporadic during the launch window.

The NASA mission management team will reconvene Thursday to review data and overall readiness.

Unmanned mission

The Artemis I mission is part of the broader Artemis programme intended to send astronauts back to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

The unmanned test launch is planned to send the Orion lander spacecraft around the Moon and then return it to Earth, at which time Orion’s heatshield will be tested during re-entry.

NASA's Orion crewed spacecraft. Image credit: NASA
NASA’s Orion crewed spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

The spacecraft is intended to enter the atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound, 38,000km/h (24,000mph), and is to reach more than 4,000F (2,200C).

Apollo successor

NASA’s moon-to-Mars Artemis program is the successor to the Apollo lunar project of the 1960s and 1970s.

apollo moon landing

In the decades following that, US and Russian space flight endeavours shifted away from the Moon, to low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station.

The plan for Artemis missions is to return astronauts to the moon’s surface as early as 2025, although that timeframe is expected to slip by a few years.

When astronauts return to the moon, it will be the first time that humans have walked on the surface since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The goal is eventually to established a lunar base on the moon, before pushing out to Mars sometime in the late 2030s.