After clearing its first attempt to launch the Artemis I mission to the moon, NASA is preparing to try again on Saturday.
There are a lot of variables that come into play — like weather conditions, and whether or not NASA can achieve the right thermal conditions for its rocket engines. However, the agency is moving forward with its next launch attempt at 2:17 p.m. ET at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA has a two-hour window on Saturday during which it can be launched. If the launch had to be cleaned again, the response time for its third attempt would depend on the cause of the peeling. If the launch is canceled for weather reasons, NASA may be ready to try again in 48 hours.
NASA and its international partners have been working for years at this moment. Artemis is a years-long mission Which will culminate with the landing of the first woman and person of color on the moon.
It all starts with the Artemis I mission, which will send a new rocket and NASA spacecraft, unmanned, on a journey to orbit the moon. The purpose of the Artemis I mission is to ensure that the deep space exploration systems – the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft – are ready to send humans to the moon and beyond.
After months of preparation, NASA made its first launch attempt on August 29. There were a number of problems, including non-ideal weather conditions. The Artemis team eventually decided to remove the launch after experiencing a problem with one of the SLS rocket’s engines. The engine was having trouble reaching the proper temperature range for take-off.
On Tuesday, John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS program manager, explained why it’s important to cool rocket engines. He likened the rocket’s engine system, which uses hydrogen as a fuel and oxygen as an oxidizing agent, to racing car engines.
“From a drag racing perspective, you never see those cars come out on a racetrack or drag strip without a good warm-up period,” he said. “We need to condition the engines well, so that they are cool.”
NASA needed to lower the engine temperature to approximately 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Honeycutt said Engines 1, 2 and 4 reached about that temperature on Monday — but Engine 3 wasn’t anywhere close.
However, Honeycutt said the problem on Monday may have been just a faulty sensor – because facts on the ground suggest the engines have been adequately cooled.
“We understand the physics of how hydrogen behaves…and the way the sensor behaves doesn’t match the physics of the situation,” he said.
Resetting the sensors on board the rocket would be a complex endeavor that could push the launch process even further. So instead, the Artemis team is streaming data from Monday’s launch, preparing a plan in case the same scenario is encountered.
“We will look at all the other data we have to make an informed decision about whether … all engines are cooled or not,” Honeycutt said.
In addition, the Artemis team will begin the cooling process about 30 to 45 minutes earlier to mimic better results achieved by NASA during the previous launch experiment.
Another major factor playing on Saturday is the weather. As of late Tuesday, the probability of bad weather was somewhere near 60%, according to NASA weather officer Mark Berger. He said the forecast showed rain and possibly a few thunderstorms coming from the coast. However, NASA is optimistic that there will be some fresh air to work on in the afternoon.
“We have two hours to work, and the bathrooms in between are a lot of real estate,” he said.
Ultimately, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Monday, “This is a brand new rocket. It won’t fly until it’s ready.”