CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A gasoline leak that thwarted NASA’s second try to launch its new Artemis 1 moon rocket on Saturday (Sept. 3) will probably take weeks to repair, and will even drive the megarocket off its launch pad, space company officers mentioned.
The liquid hydrogen leak occurred Saturday morning as NASA tried to gasoline its huge Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket to launch Artemis 1, an uncrewed take a look at flight to the moon, from Pad 39B right here at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Despite three separate tries to repair the leak, engineers weren’t in a position to stem it and in the end stood right down to assess the state of affairs additional.
That evaluation, and the restore work it finally ends up recommending, will preserve Artemis 1 on the bottom for about two extra weeks at a minimal.
“We will not be launching in this launch period,” Jim Free, NASA’s affiliate administrator for exploration methods improvement, mentioned in a briefing Saturday afternoon after the launch scrub.
That launch interval closes on Tuesday (Sept. 6). Artemis 1 will now have to attend till the subsequent window, which runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 4, to attempt once more. But it might find yourself slipping deeper into October — one other window runs from Oct. 17 to Oct. 31 — because of security necessities that would drive the SLS rocket again into KSC’s cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) throughout the repairs. (There’s additionally a possible battle throughout the earlier window: SpaceX’s Crew-5 astronaut mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to raise off Oct. 3 from KSC’s Pad 39A.)
The first Artemis 1 launch try, on Monday (Aug. 29), was scrubbed after the group observed that one of many 4 RS-25 engines that energy the SLS core stage wasn’t cooling down correctly earlier than launch. Analyses quickly traced that problem to a defective temperature sensor, and the group determined to push ahead with another try on Saturday.
Mission group members additionally efficiently troubleshot a hydrogen leak throughout Monday’s attempt, however the one they noticed on Saturday was totally different: it was so much larger. The Saturday leak occurred close to the bottom of the SLS rocket in what NASA calls a “quick disconnect,” a becoming that connects a liquid hydrogen gasoline line to the core booster to gasoline it for launch. The leak occurred after a short “inadvertent” overpressurization of the gasoline line that was 3 times the appropriate stress, mentioned Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission supervisor.
“This was not a manageable leak,” Sarafin mentioned. The leak led to ranges of flammable hydrogen gasoline close to the rocket that have been a number of instances increased than the appropriate vary, he added. It’s too early to inform if the leak was brought on by the overpressurization occasion (which was triggered by an errant handbook command from the Launch Control Center) or not, Sarafin mentioned.
“We want to be deliberate and careful about drawing conclusions here, because correlation does not equal causation,” he mentioned.
One factor is evident, nevertheless: The fast disconnect’s smooth seal gasket will probably have to get replaced. NASA engineers will meet subsequent week to determine if that may be achieved at Launch Pad 39B (which might require a particular enclosure to be constructed across the web site) or if the 322-foot-tall (98 meters) rocket have to be rolled again contained in the VAB for simpler entry.
As issues at present stand, the SLS rocket must roll again to the VAB quickly as a way to take a look at its flight termination system, which is designed to destroy the rocket with explosives if it veers off target. The U.S. Space Force, which oversees the Eastern Range for rocket launches, requires NASA to check the security system each 25 days, and that may solely be achieved within the VAB.
The 25-day deadline for Artemis 1 is simply across the nook, so NASA would wish a waiver to maintain the moon rocket on the pad if it needed to repair the leak there. It’s unclear in the meanwhile if the mission group plans to hunt such a waiver.
“I think we’re going to talk with the Range about what the possibilities are,” Free mentioned.
The image will probably begin to turn out to be clearer early subsequent week, after the Artemis 1 group has had extra time to investigate knowledge and focus on choices, Free and Sarafin mentioned. But they pressured that calling off the launch right this moment was the best transfer, as did NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who additionally participated within the briefing.
“While we don’t have the launch that we wanted today, I can tell you that these teams know exactly what they’re doing, and I’m very proud of them,” Nelson mentioned.
The two scrubs will find yourself costing NASA some cash, as Artemis 1 might want to use extra liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant than initially deliberate. But that further expenditure is suitable, Nelson pressured.
“The cost of two scrubs is a lot less than a failure,” he mentioned.
Artemis 1 will ship an uncrewed Orion capsule on an extended journey to lunar orbit and again. The mission — the primary in NASA’s Artemis program of moon exploration — is designed to point out that each automobiles are prepared to hold astronauts, which is able to first occur on the Artemis 2 flight across the moon in 2024, if all goes in accordance with plan.
Ten tiny cubesats are flying on Artemis 1, to conduct quite a lot of science work and take a look at varied applied sciences. If Artemis 1 rolls again to the VAB, the cubesats’ batteries could possibly be recharged, but it surely’s unclear at this level if such a step is required for any of them, Sarafin mentioned.
Space.com Spaceflight Editor Mike Wall contributed to this report. Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or comply with him @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab). Follow us @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab), Facebook (opens in new tab) and Instagram (opens in new tab).