Nasa calls off Artemis 1 moon rocket launch for second time after fuel leak
The US space agency chief says the maiden test flight may be delayed until October.
NASA canceled Saturday’s launch of the Artemis 1 moon rocket due to a fuel leak. The spacecraft was delayed for the second time in five days.
Mission managers at Kennedy Space Center waited until late in the countdown to scrub the launch after failing to plug a leak in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s core stage.
The head of the US space agency, Bill Nelson, said that the problem was deep inside one of the rocket engines, so it was unlikely that it could be fixed on the launchpad. Instead, Artemis would probably have to be rolled back to the vehicle assembly building for more serious repairs.
That would make Monday’s backup launch opportunity unsustainable, delaying the first crewed moon mission in 50 years. The next attempt will be delayed until September.
He said, “This is space.” We’ll leave when ready. We won’t go until then, especially on a test flight because we’ll stress it and test the heat shield before putting four humans on top.
“[The] next launch window opens in early October, but I suspect it’ll be mid-month.”
Nelson said mission managers will decide Saturday.
Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Nasa’s Artemis launch director, canceled the launch at 11.17 am local time (4.17 pm BT) with 2 hours and 30 minutes left in the countdown.
The fuel leak, discovered during early morning tanking of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, is separate from the engine cooling issue that delayed the first launch attempt last Monday. The problem was a faulty sensor, not the cooling system or engine, officials said.
Blackwell-Thompson and her team had just started loading fuel at dawn when the bottom engine section leaked. Ground controllers stopped and restarted fuel flow to close the gap around a supply line seal. They tried twice and flushed the line with helium, but the leak persisted.
Blackwell-Thompson stopped the countdown after 3–4 hours.
Mike Sarafin, the mission manager, told reporters it was too early to tell what caused the leak, but it may have been due to inadvertent over-pressurization of the hydrogen line earlier in the morning.
The escaping hydrogen exceeded flammability limits by two or three times, he said.
Monday’s launch attempt was marred by small hydrogen leaks. Blackwell-Thompson said she wouldn’t know if everything was tight until Saturday’s fueling.
Nasa’s latest setback will disappoint the agency, which wants to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.
This uncrewed, 38-day mission must be successful before astronauts can board a second test flight in 2024 and a moon landing on Artemis III in 2025.
A quarter-million people flocked to Florida’s space coast over Labor Day weekend to witness history.
Mission managers said the liquid hydrogen leak was in one of SLS’s four RS-25 engines.
The recycled space shuttle engines provide 15% more thrust than Apollo’s Saturn V rockets.
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