The take-off of Artemis-1, NASA’s new rocket for the Moon, the most powerful in the world, was canceled on Monday August 29, due to a technical problem. This is a disappointment for the American space agency, which will now have to target the next fallback dates.
Fifty years after Apollo’s last flight, the Artemis-1 mission should mark the start of the American program to return to the Moon, which should allow humanity to then reach the planet Mars.
The next possible take-off dates are September 2 and 5. But the problem will first have to be examined in detail by NASA teams before determining a new date.
The launch was originally scheduled for 8:33 a.m. (2:33 p.m. Paris time) from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. But as the day gradually dawned on the orange and white SLS rocket, 98 meters high, lift-off had become increasingly unlikely.
The tanks of the megarocket have indeed been filled with more than three million liters of ultracold liquid hydrogen and oxygen. But the filling had started about an hour late because of too high a risk of lightning in the middle of the night. Then a leak caused a pause during the filling of the main stage with hydrogen, before a solution was found and the flow resumed.
Around 7 a.m. local time, a new, decisive problem appeared: one of the four RS-25 engines, under the main stage of the rocket, could not reach the desired temperature, a necessary condition to be able to turn it on. The countdown was then stopped, and after more than an hour and a half of waiting and trying to fix the problem, NASA launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson made the decision to cancel.
“Dreams and Hopes”
Thousands of people had made the trip to watch the show, including the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. The mission aims to propel the unmanned Orion capsule into orbit around the Moon, to verify that the vehicle is safe for future astronauts, including the first woman and first person of color to walk on the lunar surface. “This mission carries away the dreams and hopes of many people”NASA boss Bill Nelson said this weekend, adding: “We are now the Artemis generation. »
The main purpose of Artemis-1 is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at almost 40,000 km/h and with a temperature half as high as the surface of the Sun. Instead of astronauts, mannequins will be on board, equipped with sensors recording vibrations and radiation levels. Microsatellites will also be deployed to study the Moon, or even an asteroid. The capsule will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft so far.
A complete failure of the mission would be devastating for a rocket with a huge budget (4.1 billion per launch, according to a public audit) and several years late (ordered in 2010 by the American Congress for an initial date of takeoff in 2017) .
Aim (again) for the Moon
After this first mission, Artemis-2 will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing there. It is an honor that will be reserved for the crew of Artemis-3, in 2025 at the earliest. NASA then wants to launch about one mission per year.
The goal is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, with the construction of a space station in orbit around it (Gateway) and a base on the surface. On this station, humanity must learn to live in deep space and develop all the technologies necessary for a round trip to Mars.
A journey of several years that could take place “at the end of the 2030s”according to Bill Nelson. But before that, going to the Moon is also strategic, faced with the ambitions of competing nations, notably China.
Also listen Objective Moon: the new space conquest
“We want to go to the South Pole [de la Lune]where the resources areincluding water in the form of ice, detailed Mr. Nelson on NBC on Sunday. “We don’t want China to go there and say ‘this is our territory’. »