Why does NASA keep delaying the launch of the Artemis I mission?

The space agency has found an error that, despite the days, has not obtained a solution. Artemis I could still fly in the fortnight of October.


Last Saturday, September 3, Artemis I was again delayed by NASA , this being the second time in recent weeks that this problem has occurred.

The problem at hand is that the SLS rocket , which will propel the Orion capsule to the Moon , maintains a large hydrogen leak in a quick-disconnect fitting. This issue, seen in the first delay, is putting the mission on hold until -possibly- October.

What problem does Artemis I have and what solutions exist?

Thousands of tourists, guests and team members have been disappointed and frustrated after the launch was called off at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The leak lies in one of the SLS engines and its severity extends beyond the launch window that ends this Tuesday, September 6.

To fix it, engineers are evaluating two options. The first is to replace the components in the suspect accessory on the launch pad and perform a fuel test with liquid hydrogen to verify its performance.

The second option is for the rocket to return to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to have the repairs done there.

Both options have their pros and cons. Although replacement is more feasible, it does not maintain protection against rain, lightning and more. On the other hand, returning to the VAB does not allow the engineers to test the accessory with cryogenic hydrogen after the repair.

During the launch attempts, NASA tried to stop the leak during the countdown itself, heating the tank connector and then cooling it with fuel to stop the leak. As it did not work, an attempt was made to repressurize it with helium first, and then proceed with the previous attempt, failing in a similar way.

When might Artemis I be released?

Because there are always snags, the space agency often talks about launch windows rather than a specific date for the flight.

The first launch window closes on September 6 and, due to the seriousness of the problems, any significant progress seems impossible. What’s more, if an attempt were made to fly on Tuesday, there is only a 24-minute launch margin in the afternoon.

Since the problem goes further, NASA  would have considered the second launch window between September 19 and October 4. However, there is a problem: the space agency is scheduled to send a new manned mission to the International Space Station on a SpaceX ship on September 3. Therefore, a crossing of flights will be avoided.

Given this, there is only one probable launch window: from October 17 to the end of that month.

“We’ll go when it’s ready,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said . “We won’t go until then, especially now, on a test flight.”

What is the goal of Artemis I?

The objective of the Artemis I mission is to propel a pilotless Orion capsule into a distant orbit around the Moon, testing the spacecraft in the deep space environment before returning it to Earth for a high-speed, high-temperature re-entry.

If the initial uncrewed test flight goes well, NASA plans to launch four astronauts on a test flight around the Moon, Artemis II , in 2024 and land the first woman and next man near the satellite’s south pole in the term of 2025-26 . But all of that hinges on a successful Artemis I test flight .