A hydraulic problem on a rocket engine forced a postponement of the first launch of NASA’s most powerful rocket on a flight around the moon that made history.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket has gone a long way in the refueling process for today’s start of the unmanned Artemis 1 mission, which is intended to test all systems that will come into play during manned missions to the moon.
During the countdown, engineers detected a problem with one of the main stage’s four RS-25 rocket engines. The rocket is designed to “purge” some of its supercooled propellant to condition its engines, basically to keep the engines at the correct temperature for starting. But the hydrogen purge procedure was not working properly for the # 1 engine. 3.
Engineers tried various techniques to free the plumbing problem, and NASA called an unplanned suspension at T-minus-40 minutes to give them more time to find a solution. But in the end, the mission leaders decided to cancel the launch for today.
Another problem involved what appeared to be a crack in the foam insulation covering the rocket. The engineers eventually determined that the crack and puffs of cold air emanating from the crack were similar to those seen during the space shuttle countdown. NASA said that particular phenomenon was not going to be a show.
The next launch opportunity comes on Friday, when a two-hour window opens at 12:48 PM ET (9:48 AM PT). “However, we will wait for a determination on what the plan is to remedy the engine bleeding, and then go from there,” said launch commentator Derrol Nail.
It is not uncommon for such problems to emerge during preparations for the first rocket launch, and the Space Launch System is arguably the most complex and expensive rocket that NASA and its trading partners (led by Boeing) have developed from the space shuttle program. . Problems with the fuel system have emerged during general rehearsals that have taken place in recent months.
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said after today’s scrub. “It’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system and all of these things have to work. And you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready.
Nelson noted that his space shuttle launch, which took place in 1986 while he was a member of Congress, met four scrubs. “If we’d been on any of those scrubs, it wouldn’t have been a good day,” she said.
Artemis 1’s mission plan calls for the SLS rocket, which is 15% more powerful than the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket, to load an unmanned Orion capsule on a 42-day voyage that extends up to 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Orion would enter a ring lunar orbit, and then return in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. One of the key tests would come when Orion’s heat shield encounters temperatures that rise to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during atmospheric reentry.
Three sensor-laden dummies inside the Orion capsule would collect data on environmental conditions, including radiation exposure, during the voyage.
NASA also plans to test an Alexa-style voice assistant developed by Amazon in collaboration with Cisco and Lockheed Martin. The voice-enabled artificial intelligence system on Orion, dubbed Callisto, could provide real-time information and companionship to future space crews headed for the moon or Mars.
Data collected during the Artemis 1 mission would help NASA prepare for Artemis 2, which aims to send a crew of astronauts around the moon in the 2024 timeline; and for Artemis 3, which aims to bring astronauts to the lunar surface in 2025 or 2026. It would be the first manned lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.