Monday, NASA interrupted a critical “wet dress rehearsal” of Artemis I, the 5.75-million-pound “mega Moon rocket” whose launch preparations have been beset by miscellaneous technical difficulties and a powerful lightning strike, and which is intended to pave the way for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.
The two-day rehearsal was originally set to finish Sunday, but was paused after an issue was identified with two fans used to keep hazardous gasses out of the enclosed areas of the launch tower.
NASA announced via Twitter that the Artemis I team planned to discuss how quickly the rocket could be readied for another wet dress rehearsal.
Before trying again, NASA must drain the rocket of super-cold liquid oxygen propellant loaded during today’s aborted rehearsal, the agency said.
Though NASA has announced only one wet dress rehearsal for Artemis I, some space missions run multiple wet dress rehearsals or static fire tests—firing engines at full thrust—before going ahead with a launch, such as SpaceX’s Zuma satellite, which was run through two wet dress rehearsals before its 2018 launch.
Artemis I will be the first test of the Space Launch System (SLS), billed by NASA as the most powerful rocket ever, capable of delivering manned missions to the Moon and Mars and robotic missions to Saturn, Jupiter and elsewhere. Launching from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, Artemis I is planned to fly about 62 miles above the lunar surface, then use gravity to slingshot into a new orbit about 40,000 miles from the Moon. Following this, the craft is planned to spend six days in this more distant orbit, gathering data and allowing NASA to gauge its performance. Artemis I is then set to perform another close flyby of the Moon before returning to Earth, splashing down near California. Though technical difficulties have repeatedly delayed Artemis I’s final rehearsal, the rocket’s boosters are capable of standing fully assembled for 18 months, six months longer than for previous booster models. A series of lightning strikes on the Artemis I rocket Saturday did not cause damage, technicians said. Using data gathered from the Artemis I mission, NASA hopes to launch a manned Artemis II rocket to the Moon, which would be the first manned lunar visit since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
Malfunctioning valves and fans are not the worst things that can happen during a wet dress rehearsal—in 2016, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launchpad during a rehearsal and was completely destroyed, along with its cargo, a Facebook satellite.
What To Watch For
1.3 million. That’s how many miles Artemis I is planned to travel on its maiden voyage.
“Artemis 1: In 100 Days NASA’s Long-Awaited Moon Mission Could Blast-Off. Here’s Everything You Need To Know” (Forbes)