Launch of NASA's Artemis 1 lunar mission delays engine computer problem.

The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for NASA's Artemis 1 mission as seen inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 13, 2021.
Work to replace a malfunctioning computer on one of the four engines in the SLS core stage will delay its first launch to at least March, NASA announced Dec. 17. (Image credit: NASA/Cory Huston)

Rocket difficulties have again delayed NASA’s trip to the moon.

The agency is now aiming to launch in March or April 2022 for its Artemis 1 trip, an uncrewed journey around the moon, and the maiden flight of its enormous Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA had originally targeted Feb. 12, 2022, for the voyage, the first in the Artemis program that intends to return men to the lunar surface later this decade. But difficulties in the mission’s integrated testing program have necessitated another timetable delay.

“After performing a series of inspections and troubleshooting, engineers determined the best course of action is to replace the engine controller, returning the rocket to full functionality and redundancy while continuing to investigate and identify a root cause,” NASA officials wrote in a statement published Friday (Dec. 17). (Dec. 17). “NASA is preparing a strategy and revised timeline to repair the engine controller while continuing integrated testing and assessing launch options in March and April.”

The SLS rocket features a core booster equipped with four RS-25 engines, each having an individual flight controller that NASA defines as the “brain” of the engine. These flight controllers may operate on two channels to provide the system redundancy. The Artemis 1 rocket successfully performed its whole launch process while anchored in place earlier this year. Still, one of the channels of one of the controllers is behaving glitchy, thus NASA’s intention to replace the system.

The whole Artemis 1 system, comprising the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft, is at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, conducting final testing before launch. Among the completed testing are processes that examine how ground systems interact with each aspect of the mission hardware.

Several tests remain before NASA can commit to a launch date. Those remaining components include practicing the countdown sequence, loading the rocket’s tanks with fuel, and installing the devices that will abort a launch if anything goes wrong.

The finale of Artemis 1 testing before launch will be what rocket experts call a wet dress rehearsal, during which crews perform each stage of launch preparations, including loading the rocket with propellant. NASA is waiting for that test to be successful before formally committing to a launch date.

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