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GeekWire

NASA ‘encouraged’ by tanking test for moon rocket

NASA says it achieved all its objectives during today’s launch-pad rehearsal for fueling up its giant Space Launch System rocket for an uncrewed round-the-moon mission known as Artemis 1 — but will have to review the data, check the weather and get final approvals before going ahead with plans for a Sept. 27 liftoff.

The test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was meant to verify that hydrogen fuel leaks encountered during the past month’s launch attempts were fixed. A hydrogen leak did crop up today during the process of filling the SLS rocket’s tanks with super-cooled propellants. “Engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities,” NASA said afterward.

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GeekWire

NASA scrubs its second try to launch moon rocket

NASA called off today’s attempt to launch its Space Launch System rocket due to a hydrogen leak encountered during the process of fueling up the core stage.

The next opportunity for liftoff could come on Sept. 5 or 6, but NASA hasn’t yet decided the timing for the third launch attempt.

NASA’s uncrewed test mission, known as Artemis 1, is meant to blaze a trail for sending astronauts to the moon.

“We’ll go when it’s ready,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “We don’t go until then, and especially now, on a test flight, because we’re going to stress this and test it … and make sure it’s right before we put four humans up on the top of it. So, this is part of the space business.”

Today’s scrub at Kennedy Space Center in Florida came five days after an initial postponement, which was attributed to concerns about the procedure for cooling down the SLS’s rocket engines prior to launch.

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Cosmic Space

Webb Telescope captures its first photo of alien planet

NASA has released the first direct image of an exoplanet taken by the James Webb Space Telescope — and although there’s no chance that this particular alien world could harbor life as we know it, the picture serves as an early demonstration of the observatory’s power.

“We’ve only just begun,” Aarynn Carter, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz who led the analysis of the JWST image, said today in a NASA image advisory. “There are many more images of exoplanets to come that will shape our overall understanding of their physics, chemistry and formation.”

The planet in question, HIP 65426 b, is about 355 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Discovered five years ago, it’s a gas giant that’s roughly seven times as massive as Jupiter — and it’s about 100 times farther out from its parent star than Earth is from the sun.

That extreme distance from a dwarf star would make HIP 65426 b a prohibitively chilly ball of gas. But the distance also provides enough separation for JWST to distinguish the planet from the star.

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GeekWire

NASA schedules second attempt to launch moon rocket

One day after the first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket had to be scrubbed due to an engine cool-down issue, mission managers announced that they’d try again on Sept. 3. In the meantime, engineers will work out the details of a go/no-go plan, just in case they face issues similar to those that forced this week’s scrub.

Sept. 3’s two-hour launch opportunity opens at 2:17 p.m. ET (11:17 a.m. PT) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If all systems are go, liftoff would mark the beginning of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight aimed at setting the stage for sending astronauts to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s.

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GeekWire

Engine problem forces a delay for moon rocket’s launch

plumbing issue on a rocket engine has forced a postponement in the first launch of NASA’s most powerful rocket on a history-making round-the-moon flight.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket went far into the fueling process for today’s start of the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission, which is meant to test all the systems that will come into play during crewed missions to the moon.

During the countdown, engineers detected a problem with one of the core stage’s four rocket engines. The rocket is designed to “bleed off” some of its supercooled propellant to condition its engines — basically, to maintain the engines at the proper temperature for startup. But the hydrogen bleed procedure wasn’t working properly for engine No. 3.

Engineers tried various techniques to free up the plumbing snag, and NASA called an unplanned hold at T-minus-40 minutes to give them more time to come up with a fix. But in the end, mission managers decided to scrub the launch for today.

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GeekWire

SLS moon launch is about much more than a big bang

More than 100,000 people are expected to overwhelm Florida’s Space Coast on Aug. 29 to watch NASA’s most powerful rocket lift off on a history-making Artemis 1 mission to the moon and beyond — but if you can’t make it in person, watching the launch online may well be the next best thing.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B at 8:33 a.m. ET (5:33 a.m. PT), at the start of a two-hour launch window. Forecasters say there’s an 80% chance of acceptable weather at the beginning of the window, declining to 60% by the end.

No significant problems have turned up during the countdown, senior test director Jeff Spalding said today. “We are prepared for anything,” he told reporters. But if weather or technical issues force a postponement, Sept. 2 and 5 are the backup dates for launch.

Streaming video coverage is set to begin at 9 p.m. PT tonight on NASA TV with commentary on the SLS fueling operation. The coverage goes into full swing at 3:30 a.m. PT. (Check out the full schedule.)

The Artemis 1 mission calls for the first-ever SLS launch to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a 42-day test flight that features a wide-ranging lunar orbit, coming as close as 62 miles to the moon and ranging as far as 40,000 miles beyond the moon. That will set a distance record for any spacecraft designed to carry astronauts.

At the end of the mission, the Orion capsule will come screaming back to Earth at 25,000 mph, heading for a Pacific Ocean splashdown. One of Artemis 1’s prime objectives is to test the performance of Orion’s heat shield at atmospheric re-entry temperatures ranging as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA and its commercial partners have been working toward this flight for more than a decade. Artemis 1 represents the first real-world test of the SLS-Orion system, setting the stage for Artemis 2’s crewed round-the-moon flight in the 2024 time frame and Artemis 3’s crewed moon landing in 2025 or 2026.

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GeekWire

Aerojet is working years ahead on NASA’s moon missions

REDMOND, Wash. — When NASA’s Space Launch System rocket sends an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and back for the Artemis 1 mission, the trip will put rocket components built in Redmond to their sternest test.

But at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond facility, where hardware for Artemis 1 was built years ago, engineers are already working years ahead. “We have delivered Artemis 1 and 2, and we’re just finishing up Artemis 3 right now so that acceptance testing will finish this summer,” said Erica Raine, the Aerojet program manager who’s overseeing work on the Orion capsule in Redmond.

And she’s just talking about the reaction control thrusters for Artemis 3’s Orion crew module — the vehicle that’s destined to transport astronauts to the moon by as early as 2025. Some of the components currently being assembled in Redmond are destined to become part of the Artemis 5 moon mission, set for 2028.

Aerojet’s production schedule goes to show how long it takes to put together the millions of pieces for the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule that are due for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 29.

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GeekWire

NASA lays out its plan for moon rocket’s first launch

If all goes according to plan, NASA could launch its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket on its first flight around the moon by as early as Aug. 29.

That’s a big “if,” however: Workers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida still have to finish fixing and testing the rocket’s systems, including components that didn’t get fully checked out during last month’s launch rehearsal.

Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, said it’ll be tricky to finish up the final test while observing all the launch constraints currently in place. “We do have some challenges right now as we complete that test and all our final closeout work, particularly in the core stage intertank, to get to a point where we’re ready to roll out,” he said today.

Today’s announcement came on an auspicious day: the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The schedule calls for the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket to roll out from the space center’s Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 18. That would set the stage for potential launch attempts on Aug. 29, Sept. 2 and Sept. 5. Liftoff would mark the start of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight that’s meant to blaze a trail for astronauts to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2025.

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GeekWire

Feast your eyes on Webb Telescope’s space smorgasbord

A day after NASA showed how far the James Webb Space Telescope could dive into the cosmic frontier, scientists released additional pictures demonstrating the observatory’s scientific breadth.

Today’s data release highlighted the $10 billion telescope’s ability to analyze planetary atmospheres and record scenes of stellar birth and death in unprecedented detail.

The infrared images also demonstrated that the Webb Space Telescope’s 21-foot-wide mirror is ready to provide sharp pictures from the very start. That comes in contrast to the Hubble Space Telescope’s debut in 1990, when the initial images were marred by a flaw in its 7.8-foot-wide mirror.

“This telescope is working fantastically well,” Mark McCaughrean, the European Space Agency’s senior adviser for science and exploration, said today during NASA’s Webb webcast. That raises hopes that the James Webb Space Telescope, also known as JWST, will deliver on its promise to revolutionize the study of phenomena ranging from the origins of the universe to the habitability of alien planets.

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GeekWire

Webb Telescope’s first image unveiled at White House

President Joe Biden got in on today’s celebration of the first full-color image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion observatory that’s been decades in the making. But the star of the show was the image itself, billed as the deepest and sharpest infrared view of the universe to date.

The picture shows a patch of sky where the gravitational effect of a massive galaxy cluster in the foreground, known as SMACS 0723, focuses the light rays emanating from far more distant galaxies in the background.

“This telescope embodies how America leads the world, not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Biden said during today’s White House ceremony. “These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things, and remind the American people — especially our children — that there’s nothing beyond our capacity.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson noted that the light from some of the galaxies shown in Webb’s First Deep Field “has been traveling for over 13 billion years.”

And that’s just the start: Astronomers say future images from the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, are likely to exceed the distance record set today, and expand other space frontiers as well.