The first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket was delayed Monday due to engine trouble.
NASA’s next launch opportunity is Friday, Sept. 2, but it’s unclear whether the engine problem can be resolved by then.
Artemis I is a 42-day test flight that will set the stage for future Artemis missions with astronauts.
After a long wait until the day NASA’s moon rocket was supposed to blast off from Earth, the mission’s launch was delayed due to engine trouble.
Just 40 minutes before liftoff, NASA froze the launch countdown to inspect a suspicious temperature difference in one of the RS-25 engines as they all went through the routine hydrogen bleed process. Engine number 3 was no match for its three counterparts.
After more than an hour of waiting for more information, the launch manager finally called off the launch attempt at 8:35 am. ET.
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on NASA’s live stream shortly afterward. “I think it’s just indicative that this is a very complex machine, a very complex system, and it all has to work. And you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready.”
The rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), was partially fueled at the time of release. NASA said Orion’s rocket and spacecraft were stable, so engineers maintained that state with partial fuel Monday morning in order to collect more data on the engine issue.
In a blog post after the scrubbing, NASA said that “launch controllers were continuing to evaluate why a bleed test to bring the RS-25 engines at the bottom of the core stage into the proper temperature range for launch was not successful and ran out of time in the two-hour launch window.”
NASA had previously intended to test the engine bleed during a test launch in June, but was unable to do so due to a hydrogen leak.
The space agency says the first opportunity to launch will be Friday, September 2 at 12:48 p.m. ET — which was one of the backup launch windows in case of technical problems or weather delays. However, engineers will make a decision once they gather more data on the issue.
“That [date] is available to the launch team, however we will wait for the plan to be determined to move forward, fix the engine bleed and then go from there,” said Derrol Nail, a NASA spokesman, during a live comment Monday. “We’ll have to wait and see what shakes out from their test data.”
In the meantime, the rocket will remain at Launchpad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
17 years of work, $50 billion and NASA’s return to the moon hang in the balance
More than 100,000 visitors were expected to gather near the space center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the inaugural launch of the new moon’s rocket and spacecraft.
NASA has spent 17 years and an estimated $50 billion developing the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, according to The Planetary Society.
During the Artemis I mission, NASA aims to fly the Orion crew capsule around the moon — farther than any human-built spacecraft has ever flown — before returning for a dive in the Pacific Ocean in October.
There will be no humans on board during the Artemis I launch. But if the spacecraft successfully completes its mission, NASA plans to put astronauts in the Orion module for another trip around the moon, during the Artemis II mission , and then land them on the lunar surface as part of Artemis III in 2025. This would be the first human return to the moon since 1972.
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