NASA sets November date for next SLS Moon rocket delay, er, launch
Heh, prove us wrong, kids. Prove us wrong
NASA now hopes to blast an unmanned Orion capsule atop a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Moon on November 14 after suffering, among other delays, a setback due to Hurricane Ian smashing up Florida.
The nearly 100-metre-tall heavy launch vehicle was slowly wheeled back to the hangar on September 26 to shelter from the devastating storm. Now that Hurricane Ian has blown over, NASA can roll the rocket back out onto the launchpad at Cape Canaveral on the US East Coast to prepare for yet more delays, sorry, actual launch next month.
The Americans said their SLS rocket was in fine condition, and "minimal work" will be required to return the machine to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. "Teams will perform standard maintenance to repair minor damage to the foam and cork on the thermal protection system and recharge or replace batteries on the rocket, several secondary payloads, and the flight termination system," NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.
The launch, if it ever happens, will be the first-ever test of the multi-billion-dollar rocket's flight capabilities and the Orion crew capsule, a separate unit designed to eventually take the first woman and next man to the Moon sometime this decade as part of NASA's Artemis program. The space agency has had no luck getting the 2.6-million-kilogram (5.75 million lbs) vehicle off the ground for months. Initially scheduled to fly on August 29, launches have been scrubbed due to hydrogen fuel leaks and that aforementioned deadly category-4 hurricane.
Issues arose when the large rocket was pumped with liquid hydrogen propellant, pressure sensors indicated fuel was escaping at an unacceptable rate. NASA in mid-September replaced the seals at quick disconnect points, where cryogenic fuel is pumped, to prevent any more leaks. It then successfully performed a fueling test to check everything would be OK for an actual lift-off.
"The launch director has confirmed all objectives have been met for the cryogenic demonstration test, and teams are now proceeding with critical safety activities and preparations for draining the rocket's tanks," the space agency previously said in a statement.
"After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities."
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The launch on Monday, November 14, at 0007 EST (0507 UTC), will test whether the fixes made to the rocket's hardware components were successful or not. If NASA fails to fly the SLS during a 69-minute time window on that day, it will have two more attempts on November 16 at 0104 EST and November 19 at 0145 EST.
If the rocket manages to get off the ground, it's set up to get the unmanned Orion capsule into the Moon's orbit, where it will spend about a month circling the natural satellite before splashing back down in the Pacific Ocean. The November 14 launch date will put Orion in orbit around the Moon for 25-and-a-half-days until it returns on December 9, fingers crossed. ®