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NASA eyes two dates for third try at Artemis moon rocket launch

Following two failed attempts to launch its next-generation rocket toward the moon, NASA says it’s now eyeing a couple of dates later this month for a third try at getting it off the ground.

Launch windows for the highly anticipated Artemis I mission will open on September 23 and September 27, NASA experts said on Thursday, though there are still a number of issues that could leave the space agency looking at an October launch instead.

NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket was supposed to embark on its maiden flight on August 29, but an issue with one of the engines prompted engineers to halt the countdown clock 40 minutes from launch. A second launch attempt on September 3 was also called off due to a hydrogen fuel leak.

NASA is aiming to fix the fuel leak issue with the rocket still on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The current plan is to check the success of the fix by fueling the rocket on September 17. Four days are needed between the check and the launch, so if the fueling date slips — and a NASA official said that it could — then engineers still have a couple of days to conduct the procedure in time for a September 23 liftoff.

However, there’s another issue that could leave NASA having to haul the rocket back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, forcing a longer delay. It involves the batteries for the rocket’s flight termination system (FTS), which is designed to destroy the rocket in midair if it veers off course at launch.

Current rules stipulated by Space Launch Delta 45 — a unit of the Space Force that oversees Florida rocket launches to ensure the safety of people on the ground and out at sea — mean that the FTS batteries have to be charged and the system fully checked, a process that usually takes place inside the Vehicle Assembly Building and which would earn NASA a 20-day permit for launch.

The space agency is hoping to have the current permit extended to avoid having to return the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building. If NASA ends up having to remove the rocket from the launchpad, it’ll have to scrub the two September dates and look instead to October. Space Launch Delta 45 is expected to announce its decision soon.

When it finally takes place, NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will propel an uncrewed Orion spacecraft toward the moon where it’ll perform a fly-by before returning to Earth about six weeks later. A successful mission will pave the way for crewed voyages, including the first astronaut lunar landing in five decades.

Also, the space agency said the two September dates were chosen to avoid any conflict with its DART mission, which will send a spacecraft crashing into an asteroid on September 26. The mission will test whether a spacecraft can change the path of a large asteroid heading toward Earth, though rest assured, the target space rock that’s involved in DART’s mission poses no threat to our planet.

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