NASA canceled the launch of a major test mission today because of problems fueling its new rocket, the Boeing-made Space Launch System.
Engineers spent the night pumping hundreds of tons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen into several tanks on the 100-meter (330-foot) long rocket in an effort to be ready for takeoff at 8:30 a.m. EST. They suffered leaks and false alarms, fell behind schedule and had a problem they couldn’t fix before liftoff time had passed.
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said shortly after the decision to clear the launch. “You don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.”
Artemis 1 uses supercooled fuel.
The challenge in fueling the SLS is that its primary propellants, hydrogen and oxygen, are cooled to -423°F (-253°C) and -294°F (-145°C), respectively. This allows engineers to add more fuel to the rocket for efficient propulsion, but also requires complex plumbing on the ground and in the vehicle.
Consider that a rocket’s hydrogen propellant tank is 130 feet long and shrinks 6 inches when filled with supercooled fuel.
NASA conducted four separate “wet dress exercises” earlier this year in an attempt to practice fully fueling the rocket and simulate the full countdown. Each of these tests encountered problems, and none of them accomplished all of their objectives. Still, the space agency said it was confident enough of the results that about 25,000 guests and hundreds of journalists could be invited to today’s launch.
The final problem that ended the launch attempt was in one of the SLS’s four main engines. Before flight, engineers run supercooled hydrogen through each engine to keep them at the right temperature. Despite several attempts to fix the problem, one engine stubbornly refused to reach the correct temperature and NASA flight controllers ran out of time.
When will the Artemis 1 launch be rescheduled?
Testing a brand new spacecraft is often a start-and-stop business, with one problem only to find another to fix. American astronaut Stan Lowe, who has worked on NASA’s space exploration mission for more than two decades, said he wasn’t surprised by the growing pains with a brand new vehicle with millions of parts. It missed its 2008 Space Shuttle launch flight by two months due to a redesign, and the vehicle has been flown into space more than a hundred times.
NASA leadership is confident that these issues can be resolved and Artemis 1 will still make its light orbit around the Moon. But it’s worth noting that NASA wasn’t able to follow the engine cooling procedure during the last wet dress rehearsal, due to a hydrogen leak that was also discovered and fixed during the overnight countdown. went.
Now, engineers are looking into what happened and how they will fix it. Their next shot at launching a rocket is Sept. 5, but if the vehicle has to be brought back to its hangar to access the main engine, NASA’s next attempt to debut a new moon rocket will have to wait longer. can