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NASA's Artemis I mission to Moon postponed again due to a liquid hydrogen leak

NASA informed that during the second launch attempt, engineers saw a leak in a cavity between the ground side and rocket side plates surrounding an 8-inch line used to fill and drain liquid hydrogen from the SLS rocket.. 

NASA's Artemis I mission to Moon postponed again due to a liquid hydrogen leak

New Delhi: NASA on Saturday (September 3, 2022) postponed its much-awaited Artemis I mission to the Moon for the second time after it encountered a liquid hydrogen leak while loading the propellant into the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket. The US space agency, which had made the first attempt earlier in the week, said that multiple troubleshooting efforts to address the area of the leak by reseating a seal in the quick disconnect where liquid hydrogen is fed into the rocket "did not fix the issue". 

"During today's launch attempt, engineers saw a leak in a cavity between the ground side and rocket side plates surrounding an 8-inch line used to fill and drain liquid hydrogen from the SLS rocket. Three attempts at reseating the seal were unsuccessful," NASA said. 

"While in an early phase of hydrogen loading operations called chilldown, when launch controllers cool down the lines and propulsion system prior to flowing super cold liquid hydrogen into the rocket's tank at minus 423 degrees F, an inadvertent command was sent that temporarily raised the pressure in the system. While the rocket remained safe and it is too early to tell whether the bump in pressurization contributed to the cause of the leaky seal, engineers are examining the issue," it added.

NASA added that it would have had to launch Artemis I by September 6 as part of the current launch period. 

If the third attempt is marred, the next opportunity to try again would come during the next launch period that runs September 19-30, or during a subsequent October window.

The initial launch try on Monday was also foiled due to technical problems, including a different leaky fuel line, a faulty temperature sensor and cracks found in insulation foam.

NASA's Artemis I mission to Moon 

The Artemis I mission to the Moon signals a major turning point for NASA's post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station. Named for the goddess who was Apollo's twin sister in ancient Greek mythology, Artemis aims to return astronauts to the moon's surface as early as 2025.

Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only spaceflights yet to place humans on the lunar surface. Apollo, however, was less science-driven than Artemis.

The new moon program has enlisted commercial partners such as SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada, and Japan to eventually establish a long-term lunar base of operations as a stepping stone to even more ambitious human voyages to Mars.

Getting the SLS-Orion spacecraft launched is a key first step. Its first voyage is intended to put the 5.75-million-pound vehicle through its paces in a rigorous test flight pushing its design limits and aiming to prove the spacecraft suitable to fly astronauts.

If the mission succeeds, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could come as early as 2024, to be followed within a few more years with the program's first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.

Billed as the most powerful, complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the biggest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era. Although no humans will be aboard, Orion will carry a simulated crew of three - one male and two female mannequins - fitted with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that real-life astronauts would experience.

(With agency inputs)

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