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

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NASA’s massive new moon rocket hit another snag during its latest attempt to launch an uncrewed test mission, and it will be at least a few weeks — rather than days — before the rocket can make its next attempt.

The longer delay can be attributed to several factors, including quirks of scheduling, possible traffic at the launch site, and NASA’s desire to make sure it’s solved the latest issues with leaky fuel.

To recap what went down on Saturday, September 3: Launch officials went confidently into this weekend’s attempt to launch the rocket, called the Space Launch System or SLS. But then, as the rocket was once again being loaded with super-cold liquid hydrogen propellant, it sprung a big leak. And NASA said Tuesday that it will begin to attempt to correct those issues while the rocket is still on the launch pad.

But, eventually, the space agency will still need to roll the rocket back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4.2-mile trip that takes roughly 10 hours, in order to “reset the system’s batteries,” according to a Tuesday blog post from NASA.

And when it comes to setting a new launch date, timing will be complicated.

On a given day, there are specific spans of time — or “launch windows” — set aside when the rocket is permitted to launch, and they can range from about a half hour to a few hours per day. But even those windows aren’t available every day. There are also “launch periods,” which are spans of days when the moon lines up with the Earth in a way that’s favorable for this mission.

The latest launch period ended on Tuesday, September 6, and NASA had said there was no way the SLS would be ready to fly during that time.

The next launch period runs from September 19 to October 4. But there’s another potential issue: NASA is planning to launch its Crew-5 mission, which will carry a fresh crew of astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket, on October 3. And NASA will have to work to make sure that one launch won’t conflict with another.

Later in October, yet another launch period will begin, running from October 17 to October 31. That period will offer up 11 possible launch windows for the SLS. (Note: there are no available launch times on October 24, 25, 26 and 28.)

Exactly which period and window NASA targets will depend on a variety of factors, including how well it can coordinate with SpaceX regarding the Crew-5 launch and how long the SLS rocket remains on the launch pad as engineers work through the leak issue, according to Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development.

When the SLS rocket is fueled up, it requires massive amounts of super-chilled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the rocket’s tanks. When loading…

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