NASA on Saturday abandoned a second attempt to lift off its new 30-story rocket and send its uncrewed test capsule to the Moon after engineers detected a fuel leak.
With millions around the world and hundreds of thousands on nearby beaches awaiting the historic launch of the massive Space Launch System (SLS), a leak near the base of the rocket has been discovered as ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was pumped.
“The Launch Director has waived today’s Artemis I launch,” NASA said in a statement. “Multiple troubleshooting efforts to address the area of the leak…did not resolve the issue.”
Although the area around the launch site was closed to the public, around 400,000 people had gathered nearby to see – and hear – the most powerful vehicle NASA had ever launched into space.
Monday’s initial launch attempt was also aborted after engineers detected a fuel leak and a sensor showed one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot.
Early Saturday, launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson gave the go-ahead to start filling the rocket’s tanks with cryogenic fuel.
About three million liters of ultra-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen were to be pumped into the spacecraft, but the process soon ran into problems.
No new date for a new trial has been announced immediately.
After the last deadline, there are backup opportunities on Monday or Tuesday. After that, the next launch window won’t be until September 19, due to the Moon’s position.
The goal of the Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the Orion capsule, which sits atop the SLS rocket, is safe to carry astronauts in the future.
Manikins equipped with sensors will replace the astronauts on a mission and record the levels of acceleration, vibration and radiation.
– Apollo’s twin sister –
It will take the spacecraft several days to reach the Moon, traveling about 60 miles (100 kilometers) on its closest approach. The capsule will fire its engines to travel to a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a spacecraft designed to carry humans.
The trip is expected to last about six weeks and one of its main purposes is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which at 16 feet in diameter is the largest ever built.
Upon returning to Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield will need to withstand speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and a temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius), about half the heat of the Sun. .
Artemis is named after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, who gave her name to the first lunar missions.
Unlike the Apollo missions, which only sent white men to the moon between 1969 and 1972, the Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman set foot on the lunar soil.
A government audit estimates that the cost of the Artemis program will reach $93 billion by 2025, with each of its first four missions reaching $4.1 billion per launch.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the Moon without landing on its surface.
The Artemis 3 crew is due to land on the Moon no earlier than 2025, with subsequent missions envisioning a lunar space station and a sustained presence on the lunar surface.
NASA chief Bill Nelson says a multi-year crewed trip to the Red Planet aboard Orion could be attempted by the late 2030s.
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