NASA’s historic unmanned mission to the moon faces new challenges.
After two launch attempts were derailed by technical issues a few weeks ago, a relaunch of the Artemis 1 mission scheduled for Tuesday is now threatened by a storm gathering in the Caribbean.
The storm, which has not yet been named, is currently south of the Dominican Republic.
But it is expected to grow into a hurricane in the coming days and move north to Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center, from which the rocket will be launched.
“Our plan A is to stay on track and have the launch on September 27,” Mike Bolger, NASA’s exploration ground system manager, told reporters Friday. “But we realized that we also really need to pay attention and think about a plan B.”
That would mean returning the giant Space Launch System rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building, known as VAB.
“If we were to go to Plan B, we would need a few days to flip from our current tank test or launch configuration to flip back and get back into the protection of the VAB,” Bolger said, adding that a decision must be made. be taken by Saturday in the early afternoon.
On the launch pad, the orange-white SLS rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometers per hour. But if it needs to be sheltered, the current launch window, which runs until October 4, will be missed.
The next launch window will run from October 17 to 31, with one takeoff opportunity per day, except October 24-26 and 28.
A successful Artemis 1 mission will be a huge relief for the US space agency after years of delays and cost overruns. But another setback would be a blow to NASA, after two previous launch attempts were scrapped when the rocket experienced technical problems, including a fuel leak.
Launch dates are subject to NASA receiving a special waiver to avoid having to retest batteries on an emergency flight system used to destroy the missile if it wanders from its designated range into a populated area.
On Tuesday, the launch window opens at 11:37 AM local time and lasts 70 minutes.
If the rocket takes off that day, the mission will last 39 days before landing in the Pacific on November 5.
The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS, as well as the unmanned Orion capsule sitting on top, in preparation for future lunar journeys with people on board.
Mannequins equipped with sensors will replace astronauts on the mission and will record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will put astronauts into orbit around the moon without landing on the surface.
The crew of Artemis 3 should land on the moon in 2025 at the earliest.
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