CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A fuel leak and then an engine problem during final liftoff preparations led NASA to scrub the launch of its mighty new moon rocket Monday morning on a shakedown flight with three test dummies aboard.
It will be Friday before the next attempt to launch.
NASA stopped fueling the Space Launch System rocket repeatedly with super-cold hydrogen. The reason was a leakage of high explosive hydrogen at the exact same spot that had seen seepage back in spring.
Then, NASA ran into new trouble when it was unable to properly chill one of the rocket’s four main engines, officials said. Following the delay in the launch, engineers worked to find out the cause of the problem and continued collecting data.
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Launch was planned for the rocket, which would launch on a mission that placed a crew capsule in orbit around Moon. The launch represents a milestone in America’s quest to put astronauts back on the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago.
This spaceship, measuring 322-feet (98-meters), is NASA’s most powerful and efficient rocket. It outmuscles even the Saturn V which took Apollo astronauts to orbit.
As for when NASA might make another launch attempt, launch commentator Derrol Nail said the problem was still being analyzed, and “we must wait to see what shakes out from their test data.”
No astronauts were inside the rocket’s Orion capsule. Instead, the test dummies, fitted with sensors to measure vibration, cosmic radiation and other conditions, were strapped in for the six-week mission, scheduled to end with the capsule’s splashdown in the Pacific in October.
Although no one was present onboard, many people gathered along the coast to witness the rocket take off. Kamala Harris (Vice President) was one of those VIPs.
The launch, when it happens, will be the first flight in NASA’s 21st-century moon-exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.
If all goes according to plan, the astronauts will board the rocket for the second flight. They’ll fly the distance around the moon as well as back in 2024 if everything goes as planned. The possibility of a two-person lunar landing may be available by the end 2025.
The problems seen Monday were reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle era, when hydrogen fuel leaks disrupted countdowns and delayed a string of launches back in 1990.
Later in the morning, NASA also officials spotted what they feared was a crack or some other defect on the core stage — the big orange fuel tank with four main engines on it — but they later said it appeared to be just a buildup of frost.
Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Launch Director and her team had to also deal with communication problems involving Orion capsule.
Late Sunday’s 11 minute delay between Orion and launch control caused engineers to scramble to figure out the cause. NASA had to understand why the delay occurred before it could commit to a launch, even though it was resolved by Monday morning.
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