American space agency NASA has some pretty ambitious plans for its return to the moon. This will all start with the unmanned Artemis 1 flight, ahead of the Artemis 2 mission that will ferry astronauts onto the lunar surface. The missions back to the moon will rely on a new rocket system that is now being tested by NASA.
But, the agency’s tests this week haven’t gone as it might have hoped. In fact, it was forced to delay a practice launch of its Artemis rocket system three times this week.
NASA has created the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft to undertake the next missions to the moon. The new launch system is a “super-heavy lift system,” which is capable of sending 59,500 pounds into orbit.
To do this, the new craft is powered by twin five-segment solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 liquid propellant engines.
But, before NASA will happily strap a few million dollars worth of scientific equipment, space exploration modules and even astronauts into the craft, it needs testing. And that’s exactly what it’s been trying to do this week.
NASA first announced it would run a “wet dress rehearsal” of the rocket launch system on April 1st. The grossly-named test would allow engineers to check various models, on-board software and the countdown procedure.
But, it was forced to delay this first test due to another launch taking place nearby. So the waiting began.
Then, NASA said the practice launch would go ahead on April 11th. But this second attempt was called off after engineers uncovered a faulty valve in the mobile launch tower for Artemis 1. Because of this, NASA said it would alter the test, before delaying it once again.
Now, instead of fueling the entire rocket for the test, NASA decided to only fill the core stage of its launch system with the explosive hydrogen that would one day power it to the moon.
So, all was now set for a scaled-back test later in the week.
Engineers began this test on April 12th, but the conclusion of this run on April 14th was, once again, called off. This time, it was because engineers uncovered a liquid hydrogen leak that prevented the team from completing all their tasks.
NASA officials said that the “rocket remains in a safe configuration as teams assess next steps.” But, it has not yet revealed what those next steps are.
In fact, because of the aborted test, NASA has refused to set a launch date for Artemis 1 until the full wet dress rehearsal has been completed. This is to ensure that engineers have sufficient time to analyze all the data from the test.
Artemis 1 was due to be an unmade precursor to the Artemis 2 launch, which would transport people back to the moon for the first time since December 1972. NASA initially planned to launch Artemis 2 in 2024 with Artemis 3 launching astronauts to the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026.
NASA has not yet confirmed how the delays to Artemis 1 will impact future missions.
The Artemis missions will see NASA launch the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon.