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NASA will try to launch moon rocket on Saturday

NASA will try to launch moon rocket on Saturday
The Space Launch System (Reuters).

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The US space agency says it will try to launch its new Moon rocket on Saturday.

An attempt at a lift-off on Monday had to be scrubbed when one of four engines on the vehicle would not cool down to its required operating temperature.

After reviewing data, engineers believe they now understand why the issue occurred.

They think it is likely related to an inaccurate sensor reading and that they can develop a strategy to deal with the problem on launch day.

This involves starting the process of chilling the engines earlier in the countdown.

“We’ve got a path forward to get to where we need to get to, to support the next launch,” said John Honeycutt, who manages the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket project at NASA.

Saturday’s launch will be timed for 2:17 p.m. local time at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Controllers will be given two hours to get the rocket off Earth.

SLS is the biggest launch vehicle ever developed by the US space agency.

It’s the modern equivalent of the Saturn V rockets that sent humans to the Moon in the 1960s and 70s – but with considerably more thrust off the launch pad.

SLS will send a big new crew capsule called Orion on a series of missions to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis programme. This first mission is called Artemis I and will be an uncrewed demonstration.

The reason for Monday’s scrub was not related to the engine itself (Engine Number 3), but rather with the system that conditions it for flight.

The power unit mustn’t be shocked by the sudden injection of super-cold propellants; it must instead be brought down slowly to the correct operating temperature (-250C) before launch by bleeding through some liquid hydrogen from the core-stage tank above.

On Monday, sensor readings suggested the engine was 15-20 degrees C short of where it needed to be.

Engineers believe the bleed-through system was working properly; it was just that the sensor system didn’t accurately reflect real temperature conditions.

The engineering team plans to start the cooling process about 45 minutes earlier in Saturday’s countdown, hoping this will bring everything into line.

“We are going to try to launch on the third (September). And, you know, coming into this prior attempt, yesterday’s attempt, we said that if we couldn’t thermally condition the engines we wouldn’t launch, and that’s the same posture that we’re going into Saturday,” said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager.

The weather forecast for Saturday is not brilliant. There is currently a 60% chance that controllers will encounter a violation of their launch criteria – principally showers. The SLS is not allowed to lift off in the rain. (BBC)