NASA had to cancel the launch of its powerful new moon rocket on Monday morning while it was being tested with three test dummies aboard due to a fuel leak and an engine issue that developed during final liftoff preparations.
The earliest possible date for the subsequent launch attempt is Friday. NASA repeatedly stopped and restarted the Space Launch System rocket’s fueling with nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold hydrogen and oxygen as precious seconds ticked away because of a leak of highly explosive hydrogen in the same location that experienced seepage during a dress rehearsal back in the spring.
Then, according to insiders, NASA encountered further difficulties when it was unable to adequately freeze one of the rocket’s four main engines. After the launch was postponed, engineers proceeded to collect data and identify the issue’s root cause.
The rocket was prepared to launch on a mission to orbit the moon with a crew capsule inside. The launch is an important step in America’s effort to return people to the moon for the first time since the Apollo programme was terminated 50 years ago.
The NASA spacecraft, which has a diameter of 322 feet (98 metres), is more powerful than the Saturn V that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Launch commentator Derrol Nail said the issue was still being investigated and that “we must wait to see what shakes out from their test results” when asked when NASA may attempt another launch.
The Orion capsule of the rocket was empty of astronauts. Instead, test subjects were strapped in for the six-week trip, which was supposed to terminate with the capsule’s splashdown in the Pacific in October. The test subjects were equipped with sensors to assess vibration, cosmic radiation, and other variables. Numerous crowds gathered along the coast to see the rocket launch despite the absence of any passengers. The VIPs were scheduled to include Vice President Kamala Harris.
When it occurs, the launch will mark the beginning of NASA’s 21st-century lunar exploration mission, which was given the name Artemis in honour of Apollo’s fabled twin sister. Astronauts will embark for the second voyage and fly around the moon and back as early as 2024, assuming the test goes well. By the end of 2025, a two-person lunar landing may take place.
The issues on Monday brought up memories of NASA’s space shuttle programme, when hydrogen fuel leaks in 1990 disrupted countdowns and delayed a number of missions. Eventually that morning, NASA officials saw what they initially believed to be a break or other fault on the core stage, which is the large orange fuel tank with the four main engines. However, they later determined that it was likely just a buildup of ice.
A communication issue with the Orion capsule also needed to be resolved by launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her crew. Engineers worked frantically to determine the cause of an 11-minute communication hiccup that occurred late on Sunday between launch control and Orion. Even though the issue was resolved by Monday morning, NASA needed to know what went wrong in order to proceed with the launch.