NASA Calls Off Artemis 1 Launch Again


NASA’s showcase manned space system — the Artemis rocket and the Orion capsule — has experienced delay after delay in its bid to make its maiden space voyage. The previous problem was leaks in the rocket’s hydrogen tanks.


But those problems have apparently been solved, and NASA was ready to launch on September 27. Then, the weather forecast got dicey, then iffy, and now, because of a potential hurricane hitting Florida midweek, NASA has scrubbed the Tuesday launch.

The space agency has a backup launch date of October 2, but that is probably going to slip as well.

NASA certainly doesn’t want the multibillion-dollar Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket topped with an Orion space capsule — out on the pad in hurricane-force winds, so it’s getting the wheels turning on a possible rollback to the protection of KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). And that prep work takes a Sept. 27 launch off the table.

“During a meeting Saturday morning, teams decided to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building,” NASA officials wrote in an update this morning (opens in new tab) (Sept. 24). “Engineers deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday, Sept. 25, to allow for additional data gathering and analysis.”

The rollback from the launch pad to the vehicle assembly building (VAB) will be accomplished by the most extraordinary machine ever built — the crawler-transporter, or CT-2. Built in 1965 to pull the massive, six-million-pound Saturn V rocket from the VAB to the launch pad, the CT1 and II can bring the Artemis (5.7 million pounds) from the launch pad to the VAB in ten hours.


The crawler is “the most phenomenal thing I’ve ever seen,” Tom Whitmeyer, the associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., said during a news conference on Monday (March 14).

CT-2 is one of the two crawlers that were built in 1965 to support NASA’s Apollo moon missions. They’re two of the largest machines ever constructed; each is 131 feet long by 114 feet wide (39.9 m by 34.7 m) — about the size of a baseball infield — and weighs more than 6 million pounds (2.7 million kg). Like tanks, the crawlers drive on treads rather than wheels. Each crawler has eight treads, each of which consists of 57 “shoes.” Each of those shoes weighs 2,100 pounds (953 kg), NASA officials wrote in a 2015 crawler feature story (opens in new tab).

As I’ve mentioned before, setbacks and glitches in a new system like Artemis are to be expected. That’s why this particular launch will be unmanned. Artemis will send the Orion spacecraft around the moon and back again in an effort to test the Orion module, the rocket as well as ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center.

But it won’t happen until next month.


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