NASA’s megarocket is withdrawing from a scheduled test flight to the moon, agency officials announced Monday.
NASA’s unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule were scheduled to launch on a test flight to the moon, but engine problems thwarted the long-awaited liftoff.
Engineers detected a problem with one of the fuel lines while the rocket was being loaded with propellant. A liquid hydrogen line used to cool the rocket’s core stage engines failed during the launch countdown, and the test flight was ultimately canceled after troubleshooting efforts failed.
A new release date has not yet been announced. NASA has backup launch opportunities on September 2 and 5, but it’s unclear if engineers will be able to identify the problem and fix it in time to make it to those dates.
“We don’t launch until it’s good,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on NASA TV after the flight was halted.
The agency said the rocket and spacecraft are currently “in a stable and safe condition,” adding that engineers are collecting data from the vehicle on the launch pad.
Monday’s event was to be the first liftoff of the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System, a next-generation booster that NASA says is the “world’s most powerful rocket.” The test flight, known as Artemis I, is designed to test both the huge SLS rocket and the Orion capsule before the agency sends astronauts back to the lunar surface.
The Artemis I delay comes after more than a decade of work by NASA to develop a new megarocket that exceeds the capabilities and size of the iconic Saturn V rockets used during the agency’s Apollo lunar program, which ended in the 1970s. The initiative has been criticized over the years for being years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
At a House Science Committee hearing earlier this year, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin said the agency will likely spend $93 billion on the Artemis program from 2012 to 2025.
NASA’s return-to-the-moon program is called Artemis, after the goddess in Greek mythology who was the twin sister of Apollo. As part of the Artemis program, NASA plans periodic missions to the moon to establish a base camp on the lunar surface, before the agency finally ventures to Mars.
NASA officials have said that astronauts could return to the moon’s surface as early as 2025.