NASA was forced to halt the debut launch of its Moon rocket on Monday after it failed to fix a critical problem with one of its engines.
The space launch system was supposed to take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as part of the Artemis 1 mission, however the countdown was suspended at T-minus 40 minutes due to an unresolved engine loss.
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “It is only illustrative that this is a very complicated machine.”
The SLS is the largest rocket NASA has ever built, offering about 15% more thrust than the Saturn V rockets that took humans to the moon as part of the Apollo missions.
Artemis 1 will see the SLS launch the Orion spacecraft on a six-week journey, taking it around the moon before plunging into the Pacific Ocean.
NASA hopes that the success of the unmanned mission, led by a crash test dummy called Commander Moonikin Campos, will provide enough data to proceed with the first manned missions set for May 2024.
The Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, comes nearly 50 years after the last moon landings. The US space agency plans to eventually establish a permanent human colony on the moon. This base will then be used to launch astronauts to Mars, although this is unlikely to happen before the end of the decade.
The setback on Monday was the result of a problem with one of the four main engines, which launch engineers spotted after filling the central stage fuel tanks with liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
The problem meant that the engine was unable to reach the correct temperature in time for the scheduled takeoff.
“The launch controllers were continuing to evaluate why a bleed test to get the [engines] at the correct temperature range for take-off was unsuccessful and time ran out in the two-hour launch window, “NASA said in an update.” The Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft remain in one configuration safe and stable “.
The engine conditioning was due to be tested during a “wet test” in June, however the engineers were unable to do so.
It wasn’t the only glitch in preparation for the canceled launch, but a leak of liquid hydrogen and a frost build-up were both successfully resolved before they could jeopardize the launch countdown.
Another issue was causing an 11-minute delay in communications between Orion and the ground crew, although it is unclear whether this would have been resolved in time for launch.
“We are emphasizing Orion beyond what it was actually designed for in preparation to send it to the Moon with a crew and we want to make sure it works flawlessly when we do and that we understand all the risks,” said Bob Cabana, NASA Associate Administrator. before launch.
“This is a test flight, it’s okay and it’s not without risk. We have analyzed the risk in the best possible way and we have also mitigated it in the best possible way “.
Thousands of people have lined the beaches of Florida in hopes of glimpsing the important first flight for Artemis 1, fulfilling at least one of NASA’s goals with the program to reignite the excitement in space exploration.
United States Vice President Kamala Harris was among those in attendance to witness the scratched takeoff, with Mr. Nelson describing her as “an enthusiastic space booster”.
A new launch window is expected to open on Friday September 2nd at 12:40 pm local time (5:40 pm BST), with another set for September 5th.