If Artemis I’s engine problem can be solved without moving the massive rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, then it still may be possible to launch the spacecraft on its mission to the moon as soon as Friday, NASA officials told reporters Monday.
Mission leaders decided to scrub Monday morning’s planned launch of Artemis I and its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket booster, after experiencing a conditioning issue with the third engine on SLS’s four-engine core stage. Engineers condition the engines by bleeding fuel into them to chill the engines to the proper temperature prior to launch. Engine No. 3 was not properly responding to that conditioning process, NASA said.
The scrub of the highly-anticipated launch of the first spacecraft designed to carry humans to the moon in nearly 50 years was unwelcome news to an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people who traveled to the area to watch history in the making.
— Jim Free (@JimFree) August 29, 2022
The uncrewed mission will be the first liftoff for the SLS–NASA’s most powerful rocket—on a 42-day journey to orbit the moon and return to Earth. Friday offers the next available liftoff opportunity to put the spacecraft on a proper course– a two-hour launch window that opens at 12:48 p.m. ET .
During a Monday afternoon news conference, NASA officials said engineers were planning to gather more data about the engine problem, and would be able to make an informed decision perhaps as soon as late Tuesday.
“If we can resolve this operationally on the pad in the next 48 hours to 72 hours, Friday’s definitely in play,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager. “We really need time to look at all the information, all the data.”
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, shortly after the liftoff was scrubbed. “There are certain guidelines and I think it’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine—a very complicated system—and all those things have to work. You don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.”
The launch of #Artemis I is no longer happening today as teams work through an issue with an engine bleed. Teams will continue to gather data, and we will keep you posted on the timing of the next launch attempt. https://t.co/tQ0lp6Ruhv pic.twitter.com/u6Uiim2mom
— NASA (@NASA) August 29, 2022
Mission planners had been working toward this day for years, in anticipation of sending the new rocket and spacecraft on a 1.3 million mile uncrewed flight test that is expected to open the door to a new era in space exploration.
The SLS core engine and its two solid rocket boosters are designed to separate from Artemis I shortly after liftoff. Once Orion enters Earth orbit, mission controllers will activate an engine burn for trans-lunar injection, sending the spacecraft on a trajectory toward the moon.
Plans call for Orion to enter a unique lunar orbit that will send it thousands of miles beyond the moon—farther from Earth than any other human-crewed spacecraft—280,000 miles. This highly stable distant retrograde orbit (DRO) requires less fuel and will allow NASA to more effectively evaluate the spacecraft’s capabilities for missions in deep space. Finally, the mission calls for controllers to bring Orion back to Earth on October 10, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, off San Diego.