NASA is considering two dates in late September for the launch of Artemis I, but several obstacles remain

NASA is considering two dates in late September for the launch of Artemis I, but several obstacles remain

NASA is trying to fix a fuel leak issue with the rocket, called Space Launch System or SLS. During the last launch attempt at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, September 3, the rocket caused a large leak while being fueled with supercooled liquid hydrogen.

And while the rocket is still on the pad, NASA is working to fix that problem by repairing and replacing some seals before running tests to make sure any leaks are sealed, NASA officials said during of a press conference on Thursday.

It is not yet known how long this will take.

Then there is the issue of certification. The US Space Force, a branch of the military, still oversees all rocket launches from the east coast of the United States, including the NASA launch site in Florida, and this area is known as “Eastern Range”.

Range managers are responsible for ensuring that there is no risk to persons or property during any launch attempt. And that means the eastern range must also give NASA the go-ahead that the rocket’s flight termination system – a system that will essentially destroy the rocket in mid-air if it veers off course and starts heading in a populated direction – is ready to fly.

This system, however, relies on batteries which, under current rules, must be recharged at a nearby indoor facility before the newly proposed launch dates arrive.

Here's why it's taking NASA so long to attempt another Artemis I launch

NASA hopes to get a waiver to this rule. But it is not yet known when or if this request will be granted. If NASA does not obtain this waiver approval, the SLS rocket will have to be removed from the pad and returned to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, which will cause further delays.

“If they decide it’s not the right thing to do, we’ll obviously support that and step back and look for our next launch attempt,” said Jim Free, Associate Administrator of the Systems Development Missions Branch. NASA exploration team, during Thursday’s press conference.

“But we will continue to push for the tanking test,” he said, referring to tests NASA plans to perform to repair hydrogen leaks while the rocket is still on the pad.

The Space Force’s Eastern Range said in a statement that it would “consider NASA’s request.” He declined to share timing details.

On Thursday, however, NASA gave an overview of what it discovered about the leak problem. The space agency had already revealed that there was “unintentional pressurization of the hydrogen line”, putting it under 60 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of the 20 pounds per square inch they had hoped for, mission manager Michael Sarafin said on Saturday Artemis.

The next Artemis I launch attempt may not happen before the end of the year

It’s still unclear if this overpressurization is the cause of the leak, but NASA knows why the overpressurization happened in the first place – and human error was involved.

“Our management team apologizes to [the operator in charge of overseeing the process] because we had made some manual changes to the procedure between Monday’s attempt and Saturday’s attempt,” Free said. “We trained during the week, but they only had a few chances. So as a management team we haven’t placed our operators in the best possible place, we really rely heavily on our credit team.”

This over-pressurization is definitely something NASA wants to avoid, according to Free. NASA is looking for a “smoother, smoother loading process, if you will.”

For now, there’s still a waiting game and a lot of “ifs” surrounding the Artemis I launch timeline. The ultimate goal of this project is to get the SLS rocket into orbit and deploy the Orion capsule. , which is built for astronauts but will fly empty for this test mission. The capsule will continue to orbit the moon before making the 239,000 mile return trip.

The Artemis I mission is just the start of a program that will aim to bring humans back to the Moon and eventually land crewed missions on Mars. Nelson said that the problems encountered during the first two scrubs did not cause any delay to future missions of the Artemis program.

CNN’s Kristin Fisher and Ashley Strickland contributed to this article.

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