NASA aims at September 27 launch for Artemis I

NASA’s Artemis I to lay groundwork for human space exploration in deep space

US space agency NASA will test super-cooled fuel that will be added to Artemis I, before its targeted launch, which is set to begin at 4:45 p.m. IST, on September 27. The event will be a cryogenic demonstration, post its failure on September 3 due to liquid hydrogen leakage. However, NASA has also confirmed a potential backup date October 2.

Artemis is named after Apollo’s twin sister, after whom the first lunar missions were dedicated. Unlike the Apollo missions that sent only white men to the Moon from 1969 to 1972, the NASA Artemis I mission will send the first person of colour and the first woman to the Moon. 

According to a government audit, the Artemis programme will cost $93 billion by 2025, with each of its first four missions costing a whopping $4.1 billion per launch. 

Artemis I mission’s key features

The Space Launch System is the most profound rocket NASA has ever built, approximately 15% more potent than the Saturn V rockets used to transport humans to the Moon. The design has been in creation since 2011, but it is based on off-the-shelf technology from previous programmes that have been rigorously examined over time.

The new heavy-lift rocket consists of two solid booster rockets and two main engines that are powered by a mixture of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. During liftoff, the system can generate approximately 8.8 million pounds of thrust.

The Orion spacecraft will be capable of transporting men farther into space than ever before, and will spend around six weeks in space. It will move approximately 1.3 million miles during that period. It will also travel further into space than any other human-designed spacecraft, travelling over 270,000 miles away, or 1,000 times farther than the International Space Station. 

The spacecraft will take several days to travel to the moon, flying approximately 60 miles (100 kilometres) at its closest approach. The capsule’s engines will be fired to reach a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) of 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a spacecraft designed to carry humans.

The journey will last six weeks, with one of the main aims being to test the heat shield, which is the biggest ever constructed at 16 feet in diameter. When it returns to Earth’s atmosphere, the thermal shield will have to endure speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) – roughly half as hot as the Sun.

Liquid hydrogen leak being fixed

On September 3, NASA tried to launch Artemis I, but it was aborted due to a liquid hydrogen leak. The team is working on fixing the fuel leak on the Space Launch System or SLS. 

Engineers are repairing the spot where the leak was discovered, while the rocket remains on the launch pad. They have built a tent-like structure around the work area to shield the hardware and teams from the elements. 

Teams will test the replacement seals under cryogenic, or extremely cold, settings, in which the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage will be loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to confirm the repair under launch conditions. 

Meanwhile, NASA has asked the Eastern Range to extend the existing testing requirement for the flight termination system. “NASA is respecting the range’s protocols for reviewing the request, and the department continues to submit extensive evidence to support a range decision,” the US space agency reported.

It is also assessing and trying to adjust launch opportunities and acceptable alternative dates based on progress at the pad and to align with other planned activities, such as DART’s planned asteroid impact, the West Coast initiation of a government payload, and the launch of Crew-5 to the International Space Station.

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